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Nascent Loop: Now showing / Right Ahead // season 1: Deliverance from Evil / episode 5: Interloper http://www.anchor.fm.com/nascent-loop
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Nascent Loop


Welcome to the Nascent Loop

_______________________________

Nascent Loop is a collection of stories, independent but interlocking.
Three series (of a projected six) are in production now:
Right Ahead,
The Howard Pyre Memoirs,
and The Costerine Chronicles.

All publications are available for free at this time.

Please subscribe to the free tier, like and comment on the episodes!

_______________________________
Right Ahead
by Howard Xaneau
Right Ahead is a predictive future for an alternate history.It takes place in a timeline quite close to the one you are most familiar with, but with some significant differences.
Deliverance from Evil is the story of a young Texan in New York, 2034. His career is on the skids, and he's trying to make sense of a post-devolution America where almost 3% of the population carries Mick Jagger DNA, where Red States and Coastal Coalitions maintain tenuous trade ties, even as Houston is threatening to secede from Greater Texas.

_______________________________
The Howard Pyre Memoirs
by Howard Pyre
Howard Pyre was the man who secured the K-6AOT001device and led the team to translate it, in hopes of discovering new technologies. A detective, a spy, a tech wizard for the Department of Defense, Howard Pyre was a man who embodied the changing times at the end of the Twentieth Century.
Forever Hold your Piece finds him a detective in Los Angeles 1984 whose life changes when he takes a case from a pimp. Not his usual clientele, but Howard keeps hearing about beggars and choosers. The case leads the detective into corners of LA that he would rather have missed, all things being equal. But then, it may be his last case in the city.

_______________________________
The Costerine Chronicles
by Glaxon Swartham,
trans. by the Signals and Cryptography Corp of the Department of Defense-
Historical novels from an alien world discovered on the only piece of tech to survive the collision of an alien craft with the Challenger in 1986. Translated by the United States Department of Defense, published in 2021 to make the Department some extra cash.
Under the Yew Tree is the story of the greatest army ever raised in Costerinin history and the young woman who finds herself caught in it. Her only chance of survival is rising through it all.

____________


Each month we will release one chapter of a book until that book is finished, then we will move on to another.
The sequence as set now:
Right Ahead, season 1: Deliverance from Evil;
The Howard Pyre Memoirs: Forever Hold your Piece,
and Costerine Chronicles Book 1, Under the Yew Tree.
_____________
Newest posts will take the top position, so remember to scroll down and check for anything you might have missed.
_____________
Right Ahead: season 1: episodes 1 and 2 are released as of November 13th, 2020
Right Ahead: season 1: episode 3 is released as of December 13th, 2020
Right Ahead: season 1: episode 4 is released as of January 13th, 2021
Right Ahead: season 1: episode 5 is released as of February 13th, 2021
Right Ahead: season 1: episode 6 is released as of March 13th, 2021
Right Ahead: season 1: episode 7 will be released as of April 13th, 2021

We thank you all for reading.
____________________________

This post, as all others, has comments enabled to allow for any suggestions and critiques readers would like to make.
____________________________


_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
2/13/21 News:

Right Ahead: season 1: episode 1: Ablution audible version is available at anchor.fm/nascent-loop.  the second episode Chirality is in production with Mr. Mortimer Joaks and the Nascent Loop Publications Production staff.
We look forward to having the second episode out soon and work on the third beginning, all while Howard Xaneau puts the finishing touches on the next few episodes we have coming. We have a projected twelve episodes slated for this season.

We hope you all are enjoying what we've been able to produce so far!
Keep it up with those comments! We love to hear back from you.
People say creatives live off of adulation as much as payment.
We've got a lot of creatives here to feed.

Love.
NLP

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
1/16/21 News:

Nascent Loop Publications
has published the first draft of the first episode of the first season of Nascent Loop's first publication: RIGHT AHEAD/ season one/ DELIVERANCE from EVIL/ episode one/ ABLUTION
Read by Mortimer Joaks. Available in BETA FIRST DRAFT form at
anchor.fm/nascent-loop

We wish we could offer the audio versions of the texts here, sadly technology is set against us. Soon.

Love.
NLP


_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
1/13/21 News:

Nascent Loop Publications is proud to announce that we have signed Mortimer Joakes to read Howard Xaneau's Right Ahead series as an audible production!
Mr. Joakes' credentials are too long and varied to list here, but we at Nascent Loop were glad to sign him aboard for only a 33% ownership stake in the company.

Hopefully, soon we will have news to report on the timetable in which we can expect the first episodes of Right Ahead to hit the airwaves!

Love.
NLP

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
12/13/20 News:

Nacent Loop Productions has been in talks with voice actors in order to bring these texts to our audience in a more dynamic manner. When our negotiations are brought to a conclusion, we hope to bring you a podcast version of Right Ahead and hopefully further serializations of our catalog.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
11/24/20 News:

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Nascent Loop
Public post

Right Ahead

season 1:

Deliverance from Evil

episode 6:

Backscatter

____________
Mac
 Tulsa, Oklahoma, Greater Texas
____________
 
 
 
Wes Evans sat behind a glass-topped desk that fairly dwarfed him. 
His office was full of large furniture, but it wasn’t a large room. The four framed degrees behind him were aligned vertically to squeeze a painting on either side of them. The leather armchair Mike sat in legitimately swallowed him and filled more than a quarter of the floor space left by the desk and credenza. He was pretty sure the chair was real leather. Even the green glass shaded lamp on Evans’s desk was oversized. It was as if everything had been chosen specifically to emphasize how squat the good doctor was. A thick little man in a cramped overstuffed world. As if Evans was the only thing proportional to the room itself, and everything else in the room belonged in a larger world. 
The doctor sat, steepled hands in powder blue nitrile exam gloves, index fingers together against his nose, peering over them, elbows barely reaching the arms of his chair. Mike wasn’t sure his elbows actually reached the arms. Evans may have been just holding them there.
 “Firstly and foremostly,” Evans said relaxing his posture and leaning forward to his desk, “I want to thank you for making the trip down here to Tulsa.” The trip you paid for, Mike thought before reciprocating the thanks effluently. 
Dr. Evans was a squat man, and he was a-bristle. His hair was slicked backed, but his mustache and eyebrows, his side burns were like hackles, quills almost, framing his thick face. His mustache almost effectively hid his thin upper lip, which, with his thick bottom lip, turned into a smile, creasing his face heavily.
He wore Apple iGlasses: prescription, and from the magnification of his pupils when he looked down, Mike assumed they were seamless bifocals that obviously doubled as mpd displays. They were iGlasses, weren’t they? 
He could be watching movies and it’d look no different to Mike. He could be surfing the web. Could be a whole speech written out playing across them. Could be the squat doctor in the office with Mike was some random guy who the real Evans wanted Mike to believe was Evans, but the real Evans was reading the fake Evans a script on the other side of those lenses just to fool Mike. Could be Mike was paranoid, too. Could be, he was bored.
Waiting for three hours wasn’t his idea of entertaining. And now, he had to listen to this prickly cherub tell him again what had been droned into his head by every pamphlet and display that could be mustered in northern Greater Texas (between the airport, of course the ads were targeted, and the facility’s aDrive): that the Evans Clinic was a state of the art clinic founded to ensure the furtherance of human medical science and mental stability while providing the best genetic opportunities to its clients… and so on and so on.
Mike had figured that “marriage counseling” was being used loosely from the outset. He’d decided that the place was most likely a fertility clinic, which provided some marriage counseling as part of the fertility treatment. Red Staters made a big deal about “natural born” citizens as opposed to in vitro. Mike was familiar enough with the phenomenon. At least here, he’d be helping whole families and not condemning other kids to his own childhood. He was, of course, condemning them to some form of childhood. To life. But if these people had made up their minds, who was he to stand in their way. Even if “not standing in their way” was making them live each other’s experience.
He figured all this before spending the rest of the ride ignoring the screens and looking out the window of the aDrive. They were on the industrial side of town. What passed for one in Oklahoma. The facility’s immediate area consisted more than a few empty lots, a derelict factory, “wonderbread,” a broken old sign said, over another that only said “–tess.” warehouses empty of anything but dust, and a landfill. Around this island of industry, a sea of suburbia had been utterly abandoned. Swaths of it were burned out. Other swaths were burning. The people had left. To the Metroplex seeking the shimmering lifestyle that the Dallas Fort Worth area projected, the free economy and easy wealth of Texas, itself, obviously the apple of Greater Texas’s eye. The shining light on the hill to borrow an idea from history. Otherwise, the people had moved out on the land, though in Oklahoma that took a certain kind of person. Many of those kinds of people had migrated north to the states collectively known as Libertania. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, parts of eastern Washington and Oregon, parts of Minnesota and Iowa that didn’t go with the NCS and parts of Kansas that didn’t go with Greater Texas, and the parts of Missouri that didn’t go with Tentucky, GT or NCS, all sent delegates to a convention in Linocln. There the states compiled a libertarian constitution. It took them four years to hash it out, and in the end the document they ratified precluded its states form levying any form of taxation, instituting any form of industrial or commercial regulation. It required each citizen own at least one long rifle and be willing to respond to calls for militia should he need ever arise, with the tacit assumption that such need would never arise. Ratification came with fanfare and fireworks. The intellectuals at the center of the document touted it as the New Consitution of Liberty in America, saying that it was a new precedent in the history of the freedom of humanity. The media on the right ate it up. Hailed Libertania as the final actualization of the dream of the founders. 
Greater Texas found itself under new scrutiny on its own governance, which it had hyped as the “most free” in the states. It still relied on property taxes to fund itself, well, and corruption obviously. Its lack of regulation and income tax was its main draw to industry and commerce, so Libertania’s extreme stance put Greater Texas at threat. Either Greater Texas would match Libertania’s constitution, or, as it actually did, it would undermine Libertania from the beginning in order to prove itself the as free as a state could be while still maintaining order. So, the Texans began a covert media operation, casting Libertania as unsafe, a new wild west, full of bandits and quack surgeons. Some of the content they spread wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just geared to draw people who thought of themselves as outlaws, rather than corporate interests who might want to take advantage of the economic policies Libertania had to offer. The Libertanians did the work of spreading the content themselves. So the corporations used Libertanian addresses, but no facilities showed up. There was no influx of workers. There was an exodus, in fact, of people who preffered the security of living under the protection of a USJFCOM contract, which, without taxes, Libertanian states had no way of paying for.
The states of Libertania had never been the most populous in the union, and with the diaspora, and no influx from incoming corporations, their populations were thinned further. Native American tribes in reservations began expanding the limits of the land in their control. Within six months, in 2029, most of the western Dakotas were under either Pine Ridge, Standing Rock or Cheyenne River control. The Navajo had been the defacto state in their region of Arizona and New Mexico as both those states dissolved, with the cities holding on, finding affiliation with each other, but weakening slowly. Greater Texas surreptitiously armed and sent tribes, making treaties with them to not harass them in their conquest of land in Libertania. All the while, the far right politicians in GT were pushing for an Israel style wall and ethnic cleansing. 
When the Tribes had gone, most either to join the Dakotas or to join the Navajo, a lot of Oklahomans, a lot of Texans and Red Staters, too, thought the return of the reservation lands would mean a boon for the state. But what they discovered, especially in cities like Tulsa, which had been surrounded on three sides by reservations, was that when the reservations went, so did most of the city. Many moved south, to the Metroplex or to Sandbag City, as New Orleans had come to be known. There were still walled strongholds. People kept moving into more densely packed areas. It was the only way that the HOAs could afford the peaceFs and Fire Brigades. They had to have high enough populations to keep the fees as low as possible. 
So first everything north of 244 was sacrificed. Then everything north of 66. Then everything north of 64. Some of the neighborhoods had walled up and tried to hold on. The aDrive drove through Mid Tulsa’s smoking remains. After having to hole up, with infrastructure falling of and not being able to work remote, the residents hadn’t been able to continue paying their fire insurance. Instead, they’d moved to South Hills, where, at least for now, they could work again and contribute to the HOAs insurance policies.
Now, Mid Tulsa was empty. Not like derelict spaces Mike had seen in the City.
Here there were no bands of people squatting. No evidence of slauggers, even. Behind everything to the north, the black smoke of fires raging through abandoned suburbs hung motionless in the sky. 
This was dereliction. 
Until Wes Evans Clinic of Medical Science. Then it was a gleaming emblem of what box buildings could achieve. Which admittedly wasn’t much, but it wasn’t derelict. There were aDrives and a few droneplats parked in front. The shrubs around were stunted but green. The grass was fake. Across the road, the grass was tall and real. And a dingy brown. It filled an empty warehouse lot, lined by fences thick with stunted brown shrubs, a washed out echo of the fake grass and stunted green shrubs by the clinic.
The clinic wasn’t only the one building, though. Behind the first box there was a complex of them, a campus of slab buildings bustling with people coming and going from one modular concrete building to another on canopied walkways. No attempt to beautify the buildings had been made beyond the fake grass and the few shrubs that someone must water. 
Mike had hoped that the austerity of the buildings’ exteriors indicated that they were entirely given over to function inside. Efficient and gleaming. He hadn’t been disappointed on that account. Others, perhaps, but not that one.
It was a busy place, and apparently Dr. Wes Evans was a busy man. Who could pay for your plane flight and a forty-five minute ride in by luxury aDrive, so that you arrived exactly when he specified, and would then make you wait three hours. Drumming his talking points into your head the whole time, no matter where you found yourself, Mike remembered thinking to himself as he took a leak into a troth john looking straight into another vidscreen of Wes Evans™ smiling face telling him that a strong marriage was a marriage with children, with Family. Mike could hear the capital. Thanks for that. 
But here he finally was in Dr. Evans office, sitting across from him, and it felt like exactly same Wes Evans presentation he had watched in the aDrive, in the waiting room and in the bathroom. Except Evans seemed taller on the vidscreen. Less distended.
Mike would have wondered if Evans was a projection, except they had shaken hands when he’d entered the room. Evans had introduced himself as he had turned to a sink behind his desk and absent-mindedly washed his gloved hands. A few things had struck Mike as odd.
“I know our facilities are probably outdated to a technician from Pastion Industries,” Evans began .
“Oh no, uh,” Mike interrupted the doctor to assure him. “What I’ve seen in your facility has been impressive. You must have great backing.” None of that was a lie. They must have had ridiculous backing. Before he’d been directed to Evans’s office, Mike had seen pieces of equipment that they had salivated over at Pastion, unable to argue the allocation of funds that direction in good faith while their business floundered. Two nurses(? Mike was still kind of confused about that) rolled the tech passed him in reception. A Microneural Robotic Transcranial Doppler Engram Scanner and a Kiron Magnanodisc Neural Manipulator. It was a nice parade. Obviously for Mike’s benefit. It wasn’t like they didn’t know what they had.
“Hah, we do well enough, I suppose.” Evans preened. “This has been more a labor of love than a profit-gaining venture, but we’ve been lucky. I’ve been lucky.” Sigh. “And our efforts here have been rewarded. We have some patrons who believe in our vision.” 
Mike almost had to literally bite his tongue to keep from asking what exactly that vision was. Evans would tell him what Evans wanted him to know. Leave it there. Mike’d gotten himself into this. All he had to do were these four jobs, and he was back in the city living it up until the money ran out. He could make 40k last a year or two. Maybe. 
Even at that, it was obviously too good to be true. But Mike had that gene that always snaps at financial windfall ideas, no matter how hare-brained. He’d invested his whole life in becoming a specialist in an industry that was pretty much a fad. So, who, really, was surprised he was here? 
“I’m sure you’ve made yourself a mint working in the memory capture business, but forty thousand workhours for a couple weeks work is a windfall to anyone these days.” Evans paused. Mike recognized a cue when he saw one.
“Oh, yes, uh, it’s more than generous. Memcapping four couples? What exactly do you have in mind?”
“Well, actually, we haven’t chosen the four couples yet. We were hoping you could help us with that, and while all the bureaucracy around that happened, we hoped that you might, well, brush our team up on some of the finer points of the engram sequencing procedures.”
“That wasn’t what we’d discussed, but, given how reasonable you’ve been so far,” Mike began.
“My rationality won’t leave me when think of your compensation in regard to this endeavor either, let me assure you. Let’s say for every two-hour class you give our staff, we’ll pay you another thousand workhours.”
“Let’s say that. Sounds like a very reasonable thing to say.”
“I knew I’d like you,” Evans gave Mike an oily smile. “Have you been given a tour of the facilities yet?”
“Haven’t.” As you damn well know, Mike thought. Keeping Mike waiting for three hours, immediately talking about how much Mike stood to make. Rub it all in my face, its fine, Mike thought. I’m too dimwitted to notice.
“Well, we’ll have to see that it’s arranged. We’re all very interested in what suggestions you might have on how we’re running things here.”
“Of course, uh.”
“Feel free to use sir. We stick to some of the older ways around here. Red state and all.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Other than myself you will work directly for Dr. Pattison. He’s the head of surgery and psychiatry. If you need to talk to anyone, his door is always open. When he’s not in surgery, obviously. That wouldn’t be hygienic. He’s a good man, been with us two years now, which is about as long as anyone here. There’s Briggs and Cutler. You’ll meet Bonnie and Ruth. And Daisy, of course.”
“Actually, I was wondering about that.”
“The nurses.”
“Yes, sir. The nurses.”
“Their uniform is set by the state board in Oklahoma. It’s supposed to be a board, but Lee Sylvester has filled it with yes votes, people who depend on him so much he got them to vote for R-num. And why did he do it? He was getting back at an ex. And now all Registered Nurses have to wear, well, you’ve seen it.”
“They can’t just wear scrubs? The state sends people to check?”
“All medical facilities in the state have CC lines that go to the statehouse. They say they’re always checking them, but really, you’ve got to assume that Lee’s watching his ex. So, yes, we have to follow the policy, no matter how ridiculous it is. We are here at the pleasure of the state.”
“So the uniform is really cut off jeans and crop top shirts?”
“Under lab coats, yes, it is.” Evans spread his gloved hands, in a gesture of futility. “I know you’re from the City, and I would understand if this lack of respect for women couldn’t be countenanced, but I hope it won’t be something that stops you from joining our research team.” The doctor paused. “Will it?”
“Uh, no?” Mike answered. “I don’t think so. The law could change any day right?”
“It’s a possibility. There’s been some backlash against Sylvester. Only time will tell.” Evans nodded a moment as if to some thought or other in his head that he hadn’t shared.
“Do you have any hardware installed? iPlant? Android?”
“No. Never been under the knife.”
“Is that a principle of yours?”
“More of a phobia,” Mike laughed, instantly wondering if he had given more away than he should.
“Any dietary restriction or allergies, chronic illnesses, mental illness, or a family history of. You get it. Anything that we should be aware of before you join us here?”
“I sup. No chronic illness. My family history is somewhat of a question. On my mother’s side, they’re strange. Lots of little neuroses like most people, some illusions of grandeur, at times, like most people, but otherwise nothing to speak of. My father’s side is entirely questions.”
“Ah. Well. I’m sorry if I’m bringing up a sore subject,” Evans smiled benignly. “You didn’t know him?”
“I… no,” Mike hesitated. “To be frank, I’m not sure my father ever existed.”
Evans forehead screwed with concern. He was looking at Mike as if he might need help.
“My mother sent out for a Jagger Kit, you know? Off TV.”
“I didn’t think those worked. They only put enough live gametes in the mixture to avoid being sued for false advertising.”
“Yeah, well. That may have been a source of my mother’s illusions of grandeur.”
“And so when you say you aren’t sure your father ever existed, you mean that the sperm cell you came from was engineered,” Evans said with a look of comisseration.
“Pretty much,” Mike responded, nodding slowly.
“And with the kind of work that Gates Genetic did on those Jagger Kits, there’s no telling what you could be susceptible to.”
“I had a genetic work up done in the City. At Prescogene.” Evans nodded with approval. “They said that they didn’t seen any indicators of genetic infirmity.”
“Very good. I’m glad you took that step. If they had found something, you would be able to take Gates Genetic to court for millions. In a few different jurisdictions.” Evans sat back in his seat. “I think that covers us. If you don’t have any questions, I’ve got the standard contract and NDA pulled up on this tablet.” Evans handed Mike a screen with paperwork up. 
“This is a contract with Prescogene.”
“Yes. We’re a subsidiary. Well, kind of a joint venture.”
“What interest do they have in this?”
“We’re developing cutting edge procedures here. Of course Prescogene wants to invest. He wants to reap the benfit of our research. It’s nothing new. If it weren’t Prescogene it’d be Pfizer/Johnson and Johnson, or god forbid, Gates Genetic.”
Mike looked the document over. Opening each term and skimming it before minimizing them all and signing the bottom of the document, pressing a thumbprint and giving the tablet’s camera an iris scan. The contract itself was run-of-the-mill, but the NDA was pretty severe in its terms. Mike hesitated. Evans saw him.
“Yeah, it’s pretty strict. I hesitated to sign it, myself.”
Mike scribbled across the screen with his fingertip, pressed his right thumb on the circle that asked for it and let the camera scan his eye again.
Evans nodded. “Good man. Now that you’ve signed the NDA, how do you feel about orgies?”
“Wha—” Mike looked like a deer in headlights. Utterly lost.
Evans guffawed loud. “That’s a joke. A little non disclosure humor.”
Mike worked up a forced chuckle. “Right.”
“You should see the nurses when I make that joke!”
Mike tried his best not to betray his shock. You’ve signed your name? Awesome, welcome to a hostile work environment. HAHA, its all a gag, a discomfiting, horrible, loaded gag. Wow. And right after the signature was down. Mike was looking at Evans a little differently.
Evans leaned back in his seat, his girth still shaking with laughter. 
“Now, Mr. Doyle, we can have the financial side of this handled directly with your bank, if you have account and routing numbers, et cetera, or we can just go through your CitySpace account.”
That gave Mike a little pause. Did he have his account and routing number? Why hadn’t he thought about having those ready when he came for this? He’d been avoiding his bank’s pings so hard he’d blanked his mind from even thinking about it. Sure. Who cared why he hadn’t thought of it? He hadn’t. And now, this job was going to show up on his citizenship. There would be no hiding it. From Pastion or from City authorities. Well, Fuck. He could open his phone to get the numbers, but he was pretty sure if he did that, his phone would be an open book to Evans and whoever else wanted a peek. Fuck. Well. Pennies and pounds, etc.
“Yeah, my CitySpace account will work.”
“What is it?”
“001Mac M-A-C Doyle01. All one word, so 001MacDoyle01”
“Mac?”
“Yeah.” 
“Alright. First of your name, huh? Not bad in that city.”
Mike answered with a positive monosyllable.
“Alright. Looks like that… checks… out. Not a bad capture.”
“Thank you,” Mike answered expressionlessly. He wasn’t sure just how bad that turn of events was. He wasn’t sure just how fucked he should feel. Or if maybe he should just buy in. Commit. To whatever the fuck this was going to be. No. He was here or a trial basis, that was it. Even if the City hit him with massive “windfall taxes.” He didn’t want to get stuck in a Red State again. 
“Now, we might have a few more specific questions for you, Mr Doyle. And I’m jumping right in, but I’ve never sat down with someone from Pastion, so you’ll have to forgive me. You guys have been setting the bar so damn high, it’s been amazing to see what you’ve done there over the last decade.”
“I’ve only been there four years. Since 2030.”
“And directly under Simon Petro, isn’t that right?”
“Yes. In fact I took their masters at Tech and went directly into a position in his team.”
“What’s he like?” Evans asked. “You hear so much about him.”
“He’s only a few years older than me. I’m not sure how he developed the engram sequencing tech at twenty—”
“You’re telling me! And he pioneered it, what, a year after Simoninski and Hart published the Engramic Neurons and Synaptic Connections.” Evans rattled off the title of the paper that had made engrams real science. Mike had referenced that paper in almost every paper he wrote at Tech. He wasn’t sure he would ever have seen the applicative possibilities that the paper presented. Not like Petro did, immediately. 
“The man is a veritable genius,” Mike agreed.
“Geniuses aren’t always the easiest to work with though, huh?” That was enough of a cliché to be harmless, but it seemed to come from a place of experience to Mike. A place of bitterness. Not intense, like he bile that Mike himself spewed forth on occasion, but Mike was sure there was something there. And with that certainty, he felt like he had an idea of what Evans wanted to hear.
“You’ve got that right,” Mike said with a laugh. “I mean, he can be demanding and all, but I worked with people who were just as demanding but had a lot less to show for it. No, in that area he was pretty much what you would expect. But, he took his milk with a touch of coffee in it, literally.”
“What?”
“I kid you not. A full cup of milk topped with a splash of coffee.”
“What is he afraid of caffeine or something?”
“Not in the least. Takes caffeine pills, in fact. He’s more afraid of duocane, honestly.”
“Wild.” Evans shook his head.
“He uses Prescogene on his hands to.”
“The Anti-Aging lotion, of course.” What else did Prescogene produce? “But he’s so young!”
“He has a thing about his hands. They look like a kid’s. Like the size of an adult’s, but the smoothness of a child’s. Even with knuckle dimples.”
“You’re kidding me!”
“I’m dead serious.”
“Incredible,” Evans was shaking his head again. “Now, you work under him; do you ever work directly with him?”
“I have on a few projects. Retrieving engrams from combat veterans without triggering memory issues.”
“What kind of memory issues where you dealing with?”
“Well, a few of the veterans were SEALs.”
“Ah. Classified engrams.”
“Yup. And with USJFCOM, you don’t really fuck with that. They say classified, you stay well away.”
“I bet!”
“Then you also have traumas. You don’t want any recrudescence where that’s involved, so, it can be very delicate work.”
“And you were chosen by Petro to assist in that work?”
“I was, that was two years ago now. He directed me and I was the hands on the instruments.”
“I bet you learned a lot.”
“I did. There were little nuances to navigating the brain chemistry that his years of experience had taught him.”
“And that he taught you.”
“Well, yeah.”
“Exactly. Exactly. I can’t tell you how excited to have you here. You’re the perfect person to bounce ideas off of. We haven’t had an engram specialist here since… Hell, we’ve never had one your caliber.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Pshaw! None of that! No need for modesty here!”
Mike was confused. He hadn’t been modest.
“No! You are the outcome of genetics and hard work and you deserve the recognition you’ve earned. And with that recognition, there comes a weight to your opinion. People will seek it out. People will have questions to ask of you, because of your success. Because of what you have accomplished and what you have learned in doing so. Questions about the nature of success and perseverance themselves, but also questions about the science of engrams, how people remember things, the nature of consciousness. So many questions people may ask.”
Here Dr Evans paused a moment. Like he was thinking about what he was going to say next. Mike was ready to move on to the tour of the facility, but he didn’t want to press his new boss. Instead, Evans continued:
“Recently there has been some interest in the question of the purely theoretic possibility of engram sequencing being reversed?”
Did he really just ask that? Out loud? 
“Uh, yes, that is an interesting question, sir.” 
Holy fuck, Mike’s mind was reeling. Wheels just spinning. No traction. He had to get through this. 
Before he’d come to Tulsa, Oklahoma, Greater Texas, he had considered all the ways he could think of that this interview, this position could go wrong. He had thought at worst he would have to deal with some kind of eugenics clinic testing gene therapies on minorities or trying to create the prefect white race. Bad enough, right? But now this fucking mad man in front of him was hinting at implanting memories. 
When a person experienced someone else’s memories they were conscious of it. There was never any confusion about whether that had been something that happened in your life. Or there usually wasn’t, that was one reason for such deep psych screens before customers were approved for procedures. But you paid for the experience and remembered it as something you paid for. Reversing the engram sequence was something altogether different. Illegal most places. Censurable throughout the industry wherever you were.
It wasn’t about censure or legality, though; it was about irrevocably changing the world. 
This was Thanos or something, Sauron, Darth Vader offering him 40,000 workhours to join the dark side. Hoooo haaaaa— open Pandora’s Box for me, Mac— hoooo, haaaa— and I shall make you master of the universe— hooo haaaa. Mac, I am your father.
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
If Mike broke that seal… who was he kidding, someone somewhere in Shanghai or Durango had to have already implanted memories. In Chiba or Tel Aviv. There were so many places working on these technologies at break neck speed. Legalities and industry conventions couldn’t hold back the flow of progress. Despite all the lofty ideals around CRIPR, how long had it taken gene therapists to edit the human genome’s germline directly? A year after they figured out how? Less?
Even if Mike did this he wouldn’t be the first.
Did that matter? 
Of course not. Well. Maybe. 
Mike didn’t want his name in the history books as the guy who ushered in the age of no one knowing if they really were who they thought they were. Philosophically, perhaps this wasn’t a huge change, people seemed to go through life with little self-examination as it was, but, no, not even close. This was something decidedly else. And who the fuck was this guy Evans, who wanted to control people so badly he wanted to implant memories in them. This little bristling man.
The doctor waved his hand and said, “Obviously, just a theoretical question, but I always marvel at the possibilities afforded us but our exploration of science, especially brain chemistry.”
His powderless powder blue hands steepled again in front of his face. 
“It’s a map of the human psyche, of what we are, and the possibilities of augmenting it are absolutely endless. Imagine, we could make people virtuoso musicians overnight. We could teach people languages, sciences, hell, we could teach them to be technicians on their own home batteries and power supplies. And that’s only dealing with people who already enjoy mental health. For those who don’t,” he spread his hands out, “imagine what good we could do.”
Mike was speechless. 
Evans didn’t seem to mind; he went on.
“Neglected children can have memories of loving homes, vacations with family.” Mike wasn’t sure if could conceive of a worse idea. Giving hurt children memories of families they didn’t have could only confuse an already battered emotional response. But anything to justify what it was that Evans wanted to do. “Grieving mothers can have one last memory with their child.”
“Now, there, you’re talking about fabricating memories?” Mike asked. “Creating engrams and then implanting them? That’s not the same as just implanting.”
“Well, we’ve already had some success in creating engram sequences with the Megalith. The question now is only implantation, and I think once we iron a few ideas out, nothing would stand in our way. Theoretically speaking of course.”
“The Megalith?”
“Yes.” Pressing a button on his glass top desk. “Agatha, Mr. Doyle and I are going to tour the Megalith facilities.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Make sure Dr. Pattison is on hand to greet us. I think he’ll enjoy Mr. Doyle.”
Oh, yeah? 
Wes Evans’s height barely changed when he stood up from his high backed chair. He walked around his desk for a minute while Mike stood and prepared to follow Evans when he made it around.
 
They had to use the canopied walkways to another building toward the back of the facility. Everyone they passed greeted Dr Evans. They looked surprised to see him for the most part, which meant the deference of their greetings was often belied by the expression that quickly passed over their faces before they recovered themselves. One of the nurses that Mike recognized as being the one who had pushed the Doppler, she had her hair in twin poofy pigtails, gave Evans a look of something akin to disgust, if not quite that severe. Evans smiled and nodded at her as if he didn’t notice.
Evans stopped only once, for a bald, labcoated man who he introduced to Mike as Cutler.
“Cutler, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of the team, our engram specialist, Mr. Doyle.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Doyle. I’ve been hearing a lot about you. Pastion, wasn’t it? I’m from the City myself.”
“Really? What area?”
“Oh, well, not the City. Milford, actually. Connecticut. Right there on the sound.”
“Right! I had some friends from out in White Plains.”
“I didn’t realize the clinics on the Coast require such draconian health regulations.”
“Oh,” Mike was reminded of his shorn head for the first time since arriving, “I’m not a clinician.”
Cutler’s face grew a little puzzled. “Right.” He dragged the word out a moment longer than he should have. “Well, it’s great to have you with us, Mr. Doyle.” 
“Please, call me Mike.”
“Mac?”
“No, Micheal.”
“Mackeral?”
Mike smiled. “Mr. Doyle’s fine.”
“Jagger, Mr Doyle. We should get to know each other over a bite to eat.”
“Well, I sup, so…” Mike trailed off.
“Ah-ah, Mr Doyle. We’re not supposed to get to know each other yet, but I guess since you can’t get a bite to eat, we’ll make it a drink? There’s a great little bar in building four. You’ll love it.”
“Yes, yes, very good, and you should take Briggs and Pattison, too,” Evans chimed in.
“Not if we want to get any serious drinking done,” Cutler laughed as if there were a joke there. Mike was lost. Evans didn’t seem to be in on it, and it wasn’t the kind of joke to make in front of the owner of the facility.
“Sorry. Just haven’t seen anyone from the City in so long. Where’d you get your degree Mr. Doyle?”
Mike looked at Evans. Was this normal? 
“Uh, I did my graduate work with the Pastion Institute at Texas Tech.”
“Where?”
“Bayer-Halliburton Pharmasource Industries and the Greater State of Texas Technological University.”
“Oh. I thought… Sorry. I don’t know what I thought.”
“And you?”
“Oh, I got my degree in New Haven.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. University of New Haven. Good school.”
Mike didn’t like Cutler. He was glad to end the pleasantries and move on, committing only to “a drink sometime.” 
He and Evans continued along the gangway until it came to a building clearly marked as Building Six. 
“I hadn’t noticed the building numbers until Cutler mentioned them. I assume we came from Building One?”
“We did.” Evans answered, opening the door and letting Mike in. “Building one is mostly offices, with some laboratories and show rooms. That kind of stuff. Building two is housing for clients. Building three, housing for staff.” The two of them walked down an LED lit hallway. “Four, well, Cutler told you, it’s mostly mess, with a nice canteen and a bar. In Five there’s a lounge no one ever uses, and the commissary, a kind of general store, as well as our electronics guru, Bonnie. Here we are,” Evans said as they came to an unmarked door. “We’ll talk about all that later. Now, enjoy,” Evans eyes lit up as he opened the door for Mike.  
The Megalith was not an ill-fitting name. The thing looked like it was out of an anime. A bed lay inside a massive MRI rig with a Doppler transcranial ultrasound, an anesthetic rig, some memcap probes, wires all neatly bound running down the side of the bed. There was a hole in the head-cradle, where the cervical vertebrae meet the skull. What looked like a needle sat poised in the hole.
Mike was still looking at the Megalith when Evans presented the thin man in a white lab coat man standing at the machine’s side.
“Mr. Doyle, May I introduce you to Dr. Pattison, he’s playing first chair in this … concerto of ours.” 
“I understand you’re in on loan from Pastion Industries,” Dr. Pattison said, offering his elbow. Mike tapped with his own, unsure what to make of the typical coastal greeting.
“Something like that,” Mike said with a smile.
“Well,” Pattison said, pushing his bottom lip up. “We’re very glad to have you here. We all look forward to working with you.” 
Well, that felt canned. Mike gave him one of those irritatingly ingratiating server smiles.
“Thank you. The feeling is mutual,” He answered. “You’ve got some exciting work going on here. I’m very interested to know what the Megalith actually is.”
“Well,” Pattison hesitated as if he was searching for the right word. “It’s a bioprinter.” 
“The needle,” Mike’s attention was all on the machine. Pattison was secondary. 
“Precisely.” Pattison moved in closer. “The needle is the bioprinter itself. It can produce substances as small as 8.6 nanometers.” A pause. “Coherent substances.”
Mike gave Pattison an approving glance nodding his head a moment before turning his attention back to the machine. “And, the MRI is there to give you an image of your targets. With the Doppler ultra sound overlaid?”
“Again, you’ve hit the nail.” Pattison smiled, clapping Evans on the shoulder. “We were right to be excited about this guy, Wes!” That was overdone, but at least in part genuine, if Mike could gauge people at all, which what with working in service and brain chemistry, he could.
“I told you,” Evans answered with an eyebrow popping up. There was something behind that though, Mike was certain.
“What are the memcap probes for?” Mike inquired.
“To check our results,” Pattison answered.
“And those results so far?”
“Well, to be honest, they’ve been rather meager,” Evans answered this time. Pattison didn’t look too riled by the answer, but he didn’t like it.
“Have they?” Mike asked, his attention still on the machine.
Pattison answered this time, though only after he had waited long enough to know Evans wasn’t going to. “When we implant under sedation, we get a negative result: engrams don’t take, synapses generation is negligible, neurons just sit there until they wilt. Neurologically, we’ve had some better results with conscious clients. Of course, they then have the memory of the implanting. We tried to go in a remove the memory, but honestly, we’ve had trouble locating where the engram was encoded. So we’re at a bit of an impasse. We’ve recently acquired some new drugs we’re excited to try.”
“Yes, I can understand that,” Mike said. Illoppurtuned timing, perhaps. Honest, but illoppurtuned. 
Now the question was when should Mike solve their problem. He’d struck upon a solution as soon as they’d given him the puzzle, but didn’t want to blurt it out. He needed to bide his time. He wasn’t sure exactly why, but he felt like it was the right thing to do. It was the wise course. Right. The solution, though, was simple enough. It was simple enough that Mike felt like anyone could stumble on it at any moment. Each moment that Mike didn’t claim the solution was a moment that some one else could. Still. He’d hold on to it a little while. If they were looking at more drugs, they’d keep themselves occupied with that.
“It’s an interesting collection of conundra.” Evans said.
After a moment Mike asked, “When do we get to work?”
“Haha, we’ve already got your lab coat.” Evans chortled.
A lab tech stepped up holding a white cotton lab coat, embroidered with only his last name: Doyle. Mike felt a surge of panic well up in his stomach, but he slid his arm into the coat regardless. Pennies and pounds, or something to that effect. He was right to be hesitant, and he could feel it right away. The coat was woven with silver nano conductors. His screen was vibrating silently in his pocket, telling him it was under attack. His firewalls should be enough to handle anything they could throw at them, though. 
“Are there goggles I should have on?”
“Yes, yes, where are the goggles, Briggs?”
“Oh, yes, sir, right away sir.”
If Mike had an implanted screen, the coat would potentially pose an existential threat to him. It could be used for the same kind of control that implanted memories could. A version of it at least. The lining in the lab coat could potentially override his visual input, auditory.
Mike put on the goggles. Immediately, his life signs popped up on the lenses, along with an icon indicating that there hadn’t been a connection with his screen established.  
Mike silently thanked whatever entity had tasked itself with protecting born assholes like him. In this case, it was himself three months earlier bored in his space beefing up his screen’s security to kill time. 
Idle hands. 
Mike wasn’t sure he had the gist of that saying quite right. 
 
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Nascent Loop
Public post

Right Ahead

season 1:

Deliverance from Evil

episode 5:

Interloper

____________
Josey
 Houston, Texas Proper, Greater Texas
____________
 
 
flick
The screen on the back of the headrest showed a close up of an old grey squirrel sucking on the end of his pipe. He was in the middle of speaking.
"— has been being waged for generations, my child. More generations than I care to count.” Here the scene faded to a montage flashback showing the images the old squirrel was describing. “They came when the building men came. They came on the ships that brought the builders. They came down the twisted ropes that held the ships in harbor. Before they came, the land and the trees had been ours. Before they came the trees had stretched across the island and beyond.  Before they came the land had not been filled with poured stone and stretching buildings that reach into the clouds above us. Wherever the builders lived, they lived as well, and they took under the land by day. They took the land by night.” The scene faded back into the old squirrel, the pulled back to reveal a group of four pups gathered around him by the light of the burning twigs in a fireplace. “We, my child, took to the trees; and by day we took the land."
The one young squirrel whom the old squirrel seemed to address directly, greyer than the others with a crook in its tail began speaking. As it spoke the angle shifted to a short close up.
"But, granddad, why do we have to fight them then?  I mean, seems like that system works.  Can't we share?"
The old squirrel again, smoking his pipe, "Yes, Crook, it does seem like it would work, and there was a time when a tenuous peace did hold.  But in a harsh winter the rats dug out the acorns and seeds we had secreted for ourselves.” Long shot of the interior as an older squirerel enters carrying steaming mugs for the old squirrel and the pups. “Many of our pups starved. A generation was almost lost, but our forefathers went under the land and found stores the rats were hoarding.  They saved us.  They saved us all."  
The shot began pulling of the squirrels’ living room, through a window and out over central park as a narrator’s voice took over.
“The old pin oak stood alone in the middle of the park. Its thick twisted boughs were called home by two families: the Barkleys, and Crook's own family, the Lightleaves; and also by Dr Northwood, though he had no family of his own. Once, the gnarled tree had been one of the best addresses in the forest, in the best neighborhood, but it had been years since the surrounding stand of Red Horse Chestnuts became infected with Japanese Long horn beetles. The park service had been forced to cut them all down. The Oak had been marked for felling as well, but a group of protestors had chained themselves to the tree, and it was found that the oak hadn't been infested.  Since then the pin oak the Lightleaves called home had stood by itself in the middle of a rolling field, which aggravated young Crook no end.” Here the shot came back insode the living room, centering on crook, but from enough distance to see everyone. “He had just reached the age when being able to scamper the branches at night to see his friends would be interesting.” 
"Now pa,” the adult who had brought in the steaming mugs said. “Why are you filling these young pups heads with all of that fire and brimstone, that talk of war. Why don't you tell them some nice fairy story about the squirrels that fly between the tops of the buildings." 
"HAH.  Those always were your favorite stories, my little Em."  the old gray squirrel in the arm chair laughed as he leaned back and took the first cup off of the tray that she carried. The pups scrambled up to get the nog off of the tray; Gen got hers first, then Michael scrambled up, grabbing the tray and hanging off of it, trying to reach his mug, before Gen got it for him and got alice's for her.  
Crook got his mug last.  He was a young squirrel, but the oldest save his sister Gen. He was an odd squirrel. His ears had brazen tufts of fur coming out of his ears. Everyone had called him Crook from the time he was a young pup, on account of a crook in his tail that sent the bushy thing on a hard left about half way up. He got it the crook dodging cars across West 110th St chasing a clear cellophane lollipop wrapper. He had a tendency to do such things.  
He was the only squirrel in the park who had made it across. Mostly that was because no other squirrel had ever tried.  He was also the only squirrel that would ever visit the Central Park Zoo, that was where he first made friends with Goodwin and Bella, the red pandas.  
Now, the war wasn't quite what grandfather made it seem with his stories, and Crook knew it.  There were times when he crossed paths with young rats at the zoo.  They never fought; they mostly just yelled names at each other.  Only when Crook had tried to get to the woods at night from home had he run into real trouble with the rats, but even then, they only hurt him enough to scare him and sent him running back home.
No other squirrel would ever even think of being on the ground at night, but Crook was like that.  Crook was always the first to try something new.  He was always the one to wander off on his own, which is why it wasn't surprising that while his grandfather told the story of the squirrels that jumped between the tops of the buildings and lived in the forests on their roofs, he slid off.  He went out the front of his home to see if anything was going on in the branches; perhaps the swallow eggs had hatched, perhaps a grasshopper had climbed all the way up the old oak on some fools errand.  
Em saw him go, but she had long since learned that he couldn't be stopped.  No matter how uneasy she was with him going off at night.  He knew to stay in the trees.  He'd had enough close calls.
Gen and Alice sat in rapt enchantment as grandfather wove his story.  Michael, the baby of the group, his teeth not yet fully in, sipped his nog and rested his head on Em's lap listen to the story with half an ear and wondering what Crook would be getting into.
"are there really forests at the tops of the buildings grams?" Gen asked.
"no one knows, child. I believe there are forests there, and that is where your father is now. Many say there is no forest left but here. Trees dot the streets, and some very wild squirrels may live out in those, but it is rare."
"Do you think Crook will do that grams?"
"HAH. Your brother is precocious, Gen, but i don't think he could ever leave his home."
"Are there any other squirrels Grampa?" Alice asked, looking up at her grandfather wide eyed.
"There are, there are, Alice. But only those few in the trees.  The building men have taken over the world.  There is no real forest left.  We are all there is, really."
Just then, Crook burst into the room and yelled one word— 
the word all squirrels fear most— 
FIRE.
flick
 
Josey’s screen switched off. The show was just getting good, but the plane was beginning its descent, so, all screens cut off. Security measures. For take off and landing, all data streams were halted. Even the wifi that ran the screens. On Emirates, the screens were hardwired, specifically for passengers to enjoy their entertainment on ascent and descent. It had been a while since Josey had flown Emirates. Or any other reputable airline. But, regardless of the airline, landing and take off were manually controlled for safety’s sake. The rest of flight was run by autopilot controlled by the towers of the airports between which the flight was taking place. If the mechanical instruments noted a deviation from the flight plan severe enough to indicate the software controlling the plane had been hacked, the pilots, who were required to be there for take off and landing anyway, could take over and finish the flight out. But Josey knew the mechanical instruments could be hacked, too. A person versed in the right magick, be it Santeria or Thelemic. He redoubled his wards on the plane, wishing he could have finished the episode. 
Well, he’d seen the episode enough times to recite it by heart. Crook’s Tale was the one thing that modern mass media had done right, Josey felt. It was his own fault, booking with such a cheap airline. He couldn’t afford more. His stipend had been reduced after the debacle on the Loch. And with the reduced stipend, he hadn’t been able to be nearly as effective. How could he be as effective? He was in his fifth decade now, flying on Spirontier Airlines. They were still playing the first season of Crook’s Tale as onboard entertainment. And that was loads better than the rest of the trash they offered. 
Strange that literature, because anything that highly narrated could only be considered literature, should be written exclusively for children in this era. Josey enjoyed literature. Especially literature written for children. They only wrote trash for adults. But then, adults only read trash anyhow. Except those few who watched Crook’s Tale. More than a few. It was one of the most popular screenshows. It had originally been novels, and the producers of the show had so much respect for the source material that they decided only to provide visuals to a narration of the novels. Josey wasn’t sure that was true, but it was how he imagined it. That way he could feel a little responsible for it. 
He had had produced a few of the first animated audiobooks in the twenties himself, when he’d still held out hope for humanity. He still held out hope for individuals, but he was pretty sure humanity was hopeless. 
He’d produced the works of Dickens and Thoreau in an attempt at edifying the next generation. Cheaply animated readings of the full original texts. (It had been before his stipend was cut, but he’d had other expenses at the time.) The Animated Audiobooks hadn’t caught on very well, except the Costerine Chronicles, those had been something of a cult favorite, which irked Josey. He’d meant to do the work to enlighten the youth as to the wealth of the western tradition. The department of defense approached him to do something with the Costerine stuff, and had offered to pay as well as assure Josey’s normal percentage. He’d only done it to cover other expenses that had been building up, and the doctor hadn’t been happy about it. Josey’s stipend hadn’t been cut for it, but he’d been on thin ice. 
Regardless, the business hadn’t been able to sustain itself, and Josey’d had to move on. It had been a good cover for a few years, and reminiscing over what he’d been able to produce over that time was a good distraction when he was doing death defying things like flying in airplanes. He was proud of that work. It was some of the only cover work he’d done that he’d actually enjoyed. He wasn’t very proud of the Costerine bit, but the Dickens, the Stevenson, the Dumas. He felt he had contributed to the longevity of real literature, at least his little part. Never mind that the animations sold less than the recordings alone. With the same readers. The exact same audio track with no visuals. But still. He had produced those audio recordings as well, so he had doubly contributed to the maintenance of Western Civilization, even in this era.
And here he was flying international on Spirontier. He couldn’t have found a cheaper ticket. He checked. Multiple times. But you really did get what you pay for. The plane had to be at least thirty years old. Parts had been refurbished: the screens in the headrests weren’t original. Josey could tell because the 737-pattern of the upholstery had been badly cut for his screen, folded over itself and melted. Cheaply refurbished. Clear plastic sheets hung between each seat, none of the plexishielded separate seats required on airplanes built after 2024 in most Coastal States and the EU. Everyone wore a mask, whether or not they were flying into a redstate. Everyone would in the airport as well. It wasn’t government mandated, since the TSA had dissolved and the FAA had privatized. It was airline mandated. Even the slightest scare could send their stock tumbling, so they remained conservative where the health of passengers was concerned. At least superficially. Well, the big airlines were. Not Spirontier, apparently. Some of the plastic sheets hanging between the seats were torn. Others were adorned with stickers. A tired attendant slugged up the aisle, clear plastic facemask fogging slightly with her breath as she rolled the waste cart passed rows of passengers. Cups and napkins incinerating instantly as they fall in the receptacle. The smoke and ash collected in the machine for disposal at the airport. They say. Josey was sure it was all just released into the atmosphere. The lights in the cabin flickered on.
Josey hated when they turned the screens off for landing, because he always looked out the windows. Well, he had to have something watch. It was never good, watching the earth rush at you as if you’re a whale falling. He’d never produced a version of Adams. That would have been fun. Distracting himself almost worked, but he was arriving late in the evening to Hobby International in Houston, Texas, Greater Texas. It was impossible to stay distracted.
Rockets were firing off every few minutes, leaving vertical streaks of condensation behind them that lit orange with the light of the next lift off from another pad some miles off. This could go on all night, and most of the day. Some were taking satellites up into orbit, but most of them were sending up pieces of the LOCUS. The Lower Orbit Clean Up Satellite. Not the most imaginative name, but an imaginative idea. The engineers behind it had sold a few high Jaggers on the idea that the detritus in our lower orbit was an existential threat to the safety of the planet and, specifically, to the muckity-mucks’ assets. They designed a vessel to clean the lower orbit of detritus by pingning all the satellites in the orbit and swallowing those that did not respond. It would have a nose like an inverted cone that would direct the derelict satellites into a massive compactor that was the LOCUS’s centerpiece. The vessel itself would be launched to have and long orbit. It would cross into low orbit, clean it out and then zoom off through the asteroid belt where it would deposit the compacted satellites, swing back around to the earth twelve years later to collect the next bunch of floating trash around the earth to deliver to the asteroid belt.
It was an idea out of science fiction, not reality. 
Josey knew that wasn’t what was really happening though. That was the cover story. Someone was building the ascended master’s “city of the pyramids” right there in the sky for everyone to see. Someone was pouring a lot of money into it, with the rate that the rockets were going up. Josey didn’t trust that one wasn’t going to lift off directly under the plane. 
He hated flying. 
There were too many things in the sky for a plane to feel safe.
Courier drones, helicabs, corporate transports. Josey could see them below the plane, zipping across the city, silhouetted against its orange glow.
He wondered too, how many of the fires below were rockets, and how many were streets igniting.
 
Exittin the plane: laser thermometer, blood check, bumprella issued
Customs: list of things to be declared to automated kiosk, Josey has nothing with him but his clothes, is here for pleasure, “enjoy the shows,”
 
Josey exited the concourse into a bustling George Bush International. It was one of the wide open clear spanned, antiseptically white and glass fabrications, decidedly late twentieth century, though it had been refurbished over the years. The wallscreens with scantily clad boys and girls beckoned and teased, while suited men and women brushed bumprellas, headed important places. Not as many as it had first seemed. Business travel wasn’t an expense that many corporations were willing to pay very often anymore. Obviously, there were some who still believed in face-to-face negotiations, but most corporations had done telecom over those for decades. Even the corporations who “stood by” face-to-face negotiations only sent out POAs: corporate closers, officers with power of attorney who could legally sign for the corporation in ceremonies usually vizzed over telecom. The legalities of interstate commerce had become a burgeoning industry for those in the legal trades. At least it was good for someone. And here they were. Among other travelers.
Telecom could replace phone conferences and board meetings, but they couldn’t really replace see family and friends or visiting places as a tourist. Those markets had become the bread and butter for airlines. And there were quite a few reasons for tourism. Sight seeing, medical operations, hardware surgeries, etc. Industrial espionage.  
The reasons to see Houston were rockets and strip clubs. Well, and the port. Trade still rode the oceans, though as it broadened to space, Houston was remarkably well placed as a port for that as well. It hadn’t broadened to space tough, yet, had it? Not trade, really, but there was industry enough to keep the city busy.
Boat neck suits with shorts and brocade shirts gave WestCoalish away immediately. Most wore the style severely, in dark colors, which seemed incongruous with the style to Josey, but they were POAs for the most part. They had to be in the perfect cut, but it had to have rigor. Dark colors. This was serious business they were about. If there had been more corporate miners than corporate closers around, there would have been a lot more color as well. There were only a few straight-line suits, cut tight with ultra thin lapels and ties to see, because there were only a few East and North Coasters. But there were some. Houston was a real hub for trade. Most everyone else were Red Staters, whether from here or Appalachia or New Burgundy or Tentucky. For the most part they wore thick lapelled suits, thick ties and work boots. Once in a while a bolo tie, but not too often. 
The culture lines had deepened since Josey’d last been to the states. They’d always been bad since Josey could remember, even back in the late eighties, but since the devolution, culture had been severely and, it seemed, purposely localized. Each region asserted its own personality and priorities, through music, clothes, food. New York and Los Angeles still predominated over media industries, and still, cultures that had grown out of the cities of America spread to some degree across the country, as they always had, but the Red States, of course, were bastions of what they termed “traditional culture,” which amounted to a reverence for the styles of the latter half of the last century, and the mores of the former half. It could be dangerous on the lines where those cultures clashed.
This was Greater Texas. But this was also Houston. And Houston was in a bad way at the moment. In much of the city, there was a large push to join the Southern Costal Coalition. There had always been the potential for the coast from the delta to Houston to be in SCC control, but Greater Texas had too much to lose, losing Houston. Both the Southern Coalition and Greater Texas had contracts with USJFCOM. The military wouldn’t make a move, and had once, in 2027, be cajoled into keeping the peace in the city after peacemen strung a person up on a stoplight on the border of their neighborhood. The Coalition of Coastal States, itself, demanded a military intervention, or it would pull all its states contract with the military. It wasn’t clear if the Coalition of coalitions of states could make any such demand on its members, but the military had been shamed into action without the Coalition having to test its resolve so early in its history.
The tension in the city had been high for years, but the situation between the peaceFs and the community had again exploded in the streets. It was discovered that the Rangers used C4 on the dwelling of a protest leader. They’d claimed his methlab had exploded. One house had been entirely obliterated with a family of four in it, and the neighboring to houses had been totaled, with a total los of life of seven. 
Their cover story was strange. Seemed like some new kid had answered the phone and said whatever lie had first come to mind, which would be exactly what you’d expect, on a coast. It was the Texas Rangers. They could have said, “yep, we blew up a protest leader and his family. That’s what you get when you try to bring tyranny to Texas.” And they’d have gotten nothing but a pat on the back from the state.
Of course, the city might explode entirely if they did that, though, it gave every appearance that it was exploding right then. The constant rocket liftoffs didn’t help the atmosphere. Metaphorically or literally. That was one reason residents wanted to join a Coalition. Some form of regulation on air quality, not just notifications of when it was particularly bad. And when it was particularly bad, breathing apparatus was medically required for exterior exposure. Of course, it wasn’t legally required. Houston had been at the mercy of toxic floodwaters and unbreathable air too long. But Greater Texas wasn’t letting go, and they would let the Rangers, and whatever other peaceFs wanted to get involved, make sure the city staid in their hands.
The states had grown pretty inured to protest. Business went on around them. If it stopped, if the businesses relocated, that could make it cost the state more than it was worth to fight for it, but Houston was naturally suited for the businesses purposes, and there wasn’t anywhere else, at least in the states, that had the capability to keep rockets launching all day and all night two weeks out of each month. The state’s lack of regulation was one of the key ingredients to that. All in all, the businesses weren’t going anywhere, however the citizens of the city felt about it. So, Houston was in a bad place. But even in the airport, it had good food.
It was barbecue. Josey hadn’t smelled barbecue in years, and he wasn’t sure he’d ever smelled any as good as this. His stomach grumbled. Food in air travel had always been the very bottom of the pits. On Spirontier, they served supplement pills. Well, it was the easiest way not to offend anyone. 
The plate of brisket and ribs with greens and beans that he ordered from a person behind a sneeze guard, that was it, just a sneeze guard. He’d ordered a local lager. Or, one that had once been local. Even in Britain, there were so few actual local brews anymore. There was a time when they were all over. Their names and labels still were. All the most popular of the local microbrews logos lived on, but now owned by the big three. 
A pint was a pint, at the end of the day.
Josey had spent most of that day, the nine hours of the flight from Heathrow to Houston in meditation. More as a defense mechanism than as devotion. He palpably hated flying. No. Palpable was the right word. He could feel the fear on his palate. He could taste it. He could feel it on all of his nerve endings. He could see it all around him. In fact, it was almost all he could see. Everything, the tray table, the window, the slack plastic sheets, the flight attendants behind foggy masks, they all screamed to him of his own fear. They suffocated him in it. In ways that no one else would notice, of course. The attendants hadn’t actually screamed. No one wrapped the plastic around his face until he blacked out gasping for air.
Rather, he sat for a full ten minutes, hardly moving, after he’d taken the complimentary supplement pill. Moving only his beverage from the tabletop to his lips. Otherwise, even his eyes were motionless. It felt good to be still. Even sitting in one place on the jet, he felt as if his body knew just how far he’s gone and how worn out he should be. Also, all of his time in meditation on the flight had been to reduce his anxiety, and hadn’t shed a bit of light on his current predicament. That of having no clue at all what he was meant to be doing. 
He wanted to stream Crook’s Tale to the screen in the headrest. He Would do that later.
Then, he focused ahead, sat up and squared himself, and out came his caim:
 
“Be thou my vision, Be thou my thought
Be thou my speech, and I what thou wrought
Be thou my battle-shield, be thou my sword
Be thou my armor, speak I thy word
Be thou my dignity, be thou my soul.
Be thou my shelter, and my stronghold.”
 
He wound through the circle over and over until the words came to him unbidden. In the upholstery in front of him there seemed infinite detail, layers he hadn’t noticed, the history of the universe was mapped in it. A new light washed over it. It was as if a window opened before him, but nothing before him changed. It was only that now there was something else there, that had always been there but had beneath awareness. That was always everywhere. Waiting to be recognized. Now, Josey recognized it. And it opened before him.
 
His area of expertise had always been Europe. Perhaps, a bit of an emphasis on the British Isles. America had always been a bit of a challenge, with its red states perhaps the most challenging. He couldn’t help his androgyny, any more than he could help his youthful appearance. Not that anyone noticed that. Prescogene had made youth available to all. Josey was thankful for it. No one ever asked any questions when they scanned his passport. His androgyny he didn’t have such an easy answer for. It wasn’t an aesthetic choice, it was just who he was, but he didn’t want to surgically alter his appearance to satisfy other people’s prejudice. But it was different, in an era when everyone went under the knife to look exactly how they wanted, when you looked as perfectly androgynous as Josey did, people assumed it was by choice. It wasn’t. Josey didn’t use uh, which had taken hold in urban centers even in Britain. 
He didn’t want to spend any more time in public than he absolutely had to. There were guncheck booths next to the bumprella kiosk outside the doors of the airport. You could tell who was travelling and who was picking people up or dropping them off by who had empty holsters. Crosses were ubiquitous. Even adverts for nudie bars had little fish down in the corner. Even for an initiate as lettered as Josey this kind of religiosity could be quite dangerous. Perhaps especially for such an initiate. All the adverts and customer service used sir and ma’am aggressively. 
The fires in Tulsa were only as bad as they were because the areas burned were reported to be largely unpopulated, so there were no subscribers to any fire crews. So the fires raged until they came close enough to a subscriber neighborhood. There they would be addressed; otherwise they were left to their leisure. 
Like most things in these red states since the federal government of the country dissolved. 
Josey wondered whether any of those “unpopulated areas” were squatted, whether what he was witnessing was ineptitude, the heartlessness of the market, or a concerted attempt to rid an area of an unwanted population. Unwanted populations. He’d seen his share of those. More than. Behind wire fences and bags of concrete hardened in place with the paper aging off of them. Things had gotten ugly all over these last few years.
Josey stood from the table quickly and upset it.
“The table! The table!” a woman ran at him yelling in Spanish.
Josey stepped back. Then shook his head and walked away quickly. Still taken aback, his thoughts flitting between the woman and the fire and unwanted populations and localized cultures. He walked quickly, in his head, but unmoored, until he found himself in front of the car rental kiosk waving his fob for the woman on the display. His credit was good. Her smile continued.
His aDrive lit up blue when he stepped out on the lot, matching the color his drive fob lit at the same moment. Josey had collected the fob from the dispenser under the display. It felt awkwardly like reaching into the young woman’s abdomen, but she smiled through the entire experience. 
In more luxurious establishments they still had humans, and in some they had displays that featured humans on the other side. AlamAvis Rental Transport wasn’t so low as to have a fully generated attendant. They used a prerecorded actor who had probably spent a few days recording responses to every conceivable question. They would call her an actress. In the red states there was neither obscurity nor fluidity of gender. It made Josey a bit uncomfortable.
For the first bit of the drive, Josey rode with the windows transparent. It was late, but Houston was still alight, moving. Traffic wasn’t bad, but it took a moment to get out from under the buildings. Then there was the sprawl, which Josey passed for two hours before seeing any countryside. What country there was left. and the other aDrives passing, long-haul droneplats, and a few vehicles that were obviously manual drives, though not nearly as many as in the city.
It was a redstate. Out in the country, though, most the locals stayed off the freeway as much as possible. Too many aDrives. Liberal influence. Creeping Sharia. Green New Deal. Ancient curses for an ancient people. The youth had long drifted to the cities, where there was some form (any form) of opportunity. 
Josey wondered idly how many of the a-drives on the highway were empty on their way to be sold, how many carried people going long distances like he was. 
 
flick
Crook’s Tale came up on the screen, and Joesy sat back.
 
 
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Nascent Loop
Public post

Right Ahead

season 1:

Deliverance from Evil

episode 4:

Heat Island

____________
Brinkman
Birmingham, Alabama, New Burgundy
____________

 
 
“If you come into a WalMA off an ox or amped on duocane, you’re basically asking for it.” The disman laughed behind the desk in their office where Brinkman, G-9, was questioning them. The office had room for the desk with a desktop interface and a filing cabinet, which was a rarity and a stamp of federal practice, never giving up on paperwork. Behind the disman, a wide window overlooked a space the size of a warehouse, which actually was the stockroom floor of the WalMA outside of Birmingham, Alabama, New Burgundy. 
“I mean, the merger happened back at devolution, and nothin’s changed in ten years— most of these kids grew up with this just as much as RedStates and Coastals and slauggers and suplife. They have to know exactly what they’re doing. I swear they do it on purpose. It’s not like we’re hiding the camps behind the store. This isn’t Target.” Here, the disman snorted. Brinkman smiled. “Ain’t no holograms or AIs here. These kids know exactly where our workforce comes from. But there’s nothing in their lives, no drive, no direction, nothing to believe in, so they start on drugs and whatever their” here, they cupped their eyes like blinders, “limited vision of ‘livin’ it up’ is, until that becomes pointless, too.” Here, their hands spread palm up in front of them. “Then one night,” here, wagging a finger, “almost always at night, we find ‘em wandering up and down the aisles,” disappointed, “too zooted to know who we are when we lead ‘em out back to First Response with the other addled junkies sitting next to victims of actual, that is, less self-inflicted, disasters waiting to be assigned jobs.”  Here, the disman took a breath or two. A chance for response, perhaps, or questions. Or just catching their breath after that performance. Brinkman put a little more mirth in their smile, but didn’t say a word. The disman continued.
“That’s how it happened with Cavanaugh.” Fishing a vape pen from their shirt pocket, the disman continued, “He was blitzed. Loan rate. In the droneplat aisle,” here, pointing at a wall, “buildin’ a fort out of boxes. Differ’nt kinda stuff, but not really. You wouldn’t believe how often we caught em doin differ’nt kinda stuff. Strange stuff. Stuff they can’t explain to you. Then, or when they’ve sobered up.” Dragging on the vape. “But, see, after a while, most of ‘em buy in. At some point, at least. Most of ‘em. I mean, it’s what they were looking for in the first place: somewhere to belong, to have a role to perform, to feel useful. If that wasn’t what they were lookin for, they’d’ave gone to Target!” The disman laughed at their own callback. “PeaceFs would have em on a farm that night.” Exhaling a cloud up and away with their laughter. They weren’t wrong. 
In New Burgundy, there were no police, only private security forces. PSFs at first, then peaceFs, officially; unofficially, pieceofS. Officers were called peacemen (the few women who joined were called peace officers). The peaceFs were licensed by the state and contracted both by communities and private businesses, mostly in agriculture, manufacturing and construction. The communities contracted the peaceFs to enforce the state and local law, and sometimes even the coalition, and, rarely, federal law. The businesses contracted the peaceFs to supply them with offenders to try and sentence. These businesses (penitensseries) held leases from the state allowing them the labor of the offenders as long as the offenders were ‘reasonably’ housed and fed. The farms or factories were only supposed to hold the offenders for the term given by the judge (who was often attached to the business and handled all their legal dealings), but often continued ‘infractions’ while housed would compound sentences, and most often once a person was in the system, there was no getting out. At least with WalMA a person could choose to leave. Few did. A steady diet and a place to sleep was enough to keep most people around, even if camps didn’t offer much in the way of privacy. There was a sort of community. 
“The harder we make the start,” the disman continued, pointing with the vape pen for emphasis, “the more we haze em, the more they buy in. In the long run. Most times.” Shaking their head. “But, yeah, then there’s Cavanaugh.” Half exasperated, half impressed. “Cavanaugh was something I’m not sure I’d seen before. He was entirely his own. He didn’t seem to pay attention to anything except what was in front of him. Which, you know, made him great in the warehouse. Not so good on the store’s floor. Kind of single minded, but not narrow minded. He had a kind of natural magnetism, but then he treated everyone so offhand that … the magnetism kind of worked against him. It drew people close enough to find out they didn’t like him. Because he made people feel like they were inconsequential. It wasn’t his fault. I talked to him about things he was interested in. The book he was reading, whatever it was. He would talk and talk, if you got him on the right subject. His attention was absorbing. You wanted to be the center of it, but you never were. You only caught it reflecting off the subject. I didn’t mind. The subjects were always fascinating, and the reflection was enough. We became something more than acquaintances over the years. Not friends, but, we knew each other.” The disman sat a moment in silence. Brinkman didn’t prod.
“Since he’s been gone though, I’ve been thinkin that there is always a Cavanaugh, isn’t there? Does that make him more special, or less? I mean, yes, in the moment he is the most impressive thing anyone around has seen, but every moment has one of those guys, doesn’t it?” Waving the vape pen wide. “Well, I guess we are proof that, no, every moment doesn’t get one of those guys. But even so,” pointing with the vape pen, “enough moments get their guys, that being the guy is kind of cliché, isn’t it?”
“Fascinating thoughts,” Brinkman said.
The disman looked across his desk at the interviewer. Somehow the FedOp dominated the office from the visitor’s chair. He wasn’t a big man, but he was there. It wasn’t like he filled the room with presence. More like the room narrowed to his focus. And when his focus was you, you knew the minutia was all being cataloged. It didn’t help that his FedNet would be recording everything anyhow. Of course, FedNet was a joke. Before devolution, FedNet had been a federally funded project, which meant by law it had to be bid on and the order filled by the lowest bidder, or with one backed by a congress member. A firm called EnDepperCo got the contract. EnDepperCo had the distinction of having one of the highest bids, but it had connections to multiple members on either side of the aisle. No one batted an eye when the contract went their way. However, there was no actual company. It was just a lobbyist and a DBA notarized and filed to an address in Delaware. They organized a team to build the network and hardware, but about halfway through the venture, the “CEO,” Edmund Barrett, ran out with the money to Venezuela, where there was no extradition. He had since moved to Wyoming, which didn’t recognize any Federal Services.
Needless to say the FedNet was notorious. The implant recordings, ND8s, had notoriously noisy visuals. Worse, the vidfeed followed the focus of the pupil necessarily, so the technology was heavily user dependent. In the hands of most Feds that meant it was harmless. In the head of an operative like Brinkman, FedNet was a powerful weapon. 
The disman tried to rein in his focus.
“Yeah, so, Cavanaugh, anyway, he didn’t react well to being told what to do, much less the hazing. Ended up in FR more than a few times. Some of the Seniority took a… disliking to him. Which never goes well for a weed.” Stuffing the pen back in the pocket behind their namebadge. Two gold stars on it. About the size of gold star stickers. Two gold stars designated them a disman for WalMA, which carried a G-7 level federally. It wouldn’t have mattered if they were a G-12. WalMA were the lowest order of federal employees, though they were in the one department that was able to financially sustain itself.
“It got pretty ugly with Cavanaugh. He was laid up a lot, which Seniority doesn’t like. Worker off the floor, instead takin up space in First Response, which could be used to recruit new workers. It can be a bit of a vicious circle. People who are ostracized by the camp are useless to us in Man, so, if you don’t buy in, usually you move on. But he didn’t. Instead, Cavanaugh became a kind of camp scapegoat. People just vented on him. He was beat near the end of his life more than once that first year. But he stuck around. I couldn’t figure why. The second time he was beat that bad, McCarthy_9 gave him stock for his own tent. It wasn’t so much out of care for Cavanaugh. It was because Cavanaugh was taking up too much of the medstaff’s time. Their numbers were dropping, and Seniority was leaning on McCarthy_9, who didn’t have much in the way of sympathy for anyone. I’m not one to speak ill of the dead, but it was hard to take Mac9 serious. He claimed he cut his teeth as a field medic in the Siege of Seattle, and he must have been fourteen. He was the type of person that would lie to you about the most useless stuff. He’d top any story told in the same room with him. It became a kind of running joke with some of us. Just seeing what we could get him to claim he had done or seen. But it’s no good having a medic, the closest thing to pass for a doctor, that no one trusts. It’s not really the same trust, I know. The trust you have in his ability and the trust you have in his, what?, storytelling? But if people stop trusting you for any reason, they tend to lose all trust for you. Which I think was really the beginning of the end for Mac9. By the end, he’d lost faith in himself, too. And then there is nothing you can do with a person.”
Brinkman G-9’s gaze flattened.
“So anyhow, after McCarthy_9 got him started, Cavanaugh commenced to fill his tent with first aid supplies and over the counter stuff. The camp gave him plenty of opportunity to learn to nurse himself. He stopped going to FR entirely. He was recovering more quickly on his own. I heard that he sutured a knife wound closed on his own arm. I never asked him about it, but the stitch job did look pretty amateur. I bet it was better than Mac9 could have done though, without an autosuture. Cavanaugh learned to take care of himself alright.  After he’d been here a year or two, he became a kind of de facto medic, taking care of other folks.” 
“A year, or two?” Brinkman asked.
The disman rubbed their chin. “Closer to two, but not quite.” 
“Go on.”
“Yeah, well. Cavanaugh’d become a kind of de facto medic. We don’t have the best team in our FR. It’s really busy and overworked and what not, but yeah, a lot of people came to rely on Cavanaugh, especially for minor things, scrapes and bruises, flues and colds. He got pretty good. I went to him, actually. Fact, I’d have a scar right here,” indicating their chin, “if it wasn’t for him. Had a crate slide off a D-lift, crack me right in the face. I went down with stars in my eyes, I heard a few yells, and Cavanaugh was there, with some hemostat powder and a suture cinch tape. You know, the one’s you pull both sides and it closes up a wound like nothing? Damn things still impress me. He had me set and ready to work a couple days later.” Fishing in their pocket, again, but absent-mindedly. “Said I couldn’t work the next day for the possible concussion and I should take the day off and tell him how I felt. And no one squawked. At all. I mean, they didn’t even bump me on management track. His word was as good as the doc’s. And he didn’t charge nothing. Never did. People just gave him stuff. Sometimes we gave him more supplies, sometimes food or books. He was always happy to get books.” Nodding. “Anyhow, it wasn’t too long before Johnny Horne went to see him. Johnny’d been one of the worst, too. He’d sent Cavanaugh to the FR more than once. Johnny’s a mean bastard. Now, I didn’t see it, and I heard a hundred different versions. Whether Johnny had the … character to be shame faced or not, I wouldn’t venture a guess, but the one thing that everyone got the same was that Johnny offered no apologies, and Cavanaugh took care of him like any one else.” Another drag from the vape, before stuffing it back in their pocket. “Let me be clear,” blowing the smoke out, “the hazing, for him, for Cavanaugh had stopped at least a year before. Cavanaugh had been stocking like anyone else their first few years, and he’d been earning the respect of most of us, but after that, after that with Johnny, people started treating him differently. Even Seniority. People would give him a pretty wide berth unless they were coming to him for…” searching for the word, “…aid, which, well, they started to come to him for different things. Advice, I guess you could say, and help.” He paused. “Even me. Well, when I was upper lower management. I quit goin to him after I became lower upper management. Kind of thing just wasn’t done. Mixing with the emps like that. But once, I did see him, during, I think it was a Lunch :15, some random day, probably two years ago now, I saw him idling by himself, and I just had to go ask. I walked over to him and said hi. He said hey, inquired after how things had been, the regs. And I asked him. ‘Why did you help Johnny?’ And you know what he said? He said, if he hadn’t been done like he had, if he hadn’t been as viciously hazed as he had been, he never would have had his stockpiles. He never would have learned to heal his wounds. He never would have been anything. Everything he’d built here had been built on that. He said he could have expected an apology, but he also could have offered thanks, so he let both go unsaid.” They shook their head. “Weird guy.” With half a chuckle. “You know, I don’t think anyone ever followed his advice. But we all felt better for askin.”
“Can I have his medical file, Mx Thurston?”
“It’s not too long, obviously. Once he started treating himself, there aren’t anymore records.”
“That’s fine, we just need some baseline things.”
The disman, Mx Thurston, pushed a few things on their touch screen and a dialog box opened on the interviewer’s pad to ask if it was prepared to accept the transfer.
“Yeah, you know, if people had listened to his advice, I think management would have kicked him a lot earlier.” Transfer accepted. Brinkman raised an eyebrow.
“What were the circumstances of Mx Cavanaugh’s departure?” as they scrolled through Cavanaugh’s medical history.
“I wasn’t here. They had me at corporate, earning this.” Indicating the second star on their nametag. Disman, middle upper management, G-7. “From what I’ve heard though, it wasn’t pretty. Didn’t make much sense to me at the time. They ain’t even charge him.” Eyes lit with meaning. “They just asked him to leave.” Shaking his head. “I mean, people who aren’t well liked, who are trouble makers without being lawbreakers, you know? people who just generally rub management the wrong way; those ones they’ll ask to leave, right? Not people who break the law. And no body really had a problem with Cavanaugh. Most everybody was glad he was here. And, and this is what struck me as odd, they claimed that some of his medical supplies were stolen from the store. And, look, they could have been, but he accepted… goods for work that he’d done. Even if they’d been stolen, he hadn’t stolen them.” They chuckled. “I mean, none of what I’m saying holds any water. It’s just my opinion.” Spreading their hands. “But the claim was made that some stolen items were found among his things, and he wasn’t charged with anything, just asked to leave. Now, I shouldn’t be saying any of this, and least of all to you, but I’m just going to go ahead and say it anyway. It stunk to me of a frame. Why was anyone looking in his things? We never inspected his tent. If there were stolen goods there, it was because someone had deliberately given him stolen things for them to find to have an excuse to make him leave.” Sat back in their chair, looking almost triumphant. 
“It’s the only way that makes sense to me.” Then with a shrug, “of course, they could’ve just charged him. But, then, I’m honestly not sure what would have happened if you walked him through camp in custody. See, he wasn’t like a leader, no one followed him or even spent time with him like that, but he was like a… a mascot. Like he was ours. He was part of what made us who we were. But.” The light back in his eye. “You ask him to leave, tell him you won’t let him continue to do his work. You’re taking all his supplies and putting him on bathroom mop up, won’t even let him stock or do anything that’d get him better hours for his time. You force him to choose to leave.” Another shrug. “Then, we all say, get the blankity blank out. We’ve got no use for you. If you want to go, get out. And he did. He was gone before I got back from corporate.”
“Any idea where they would go?”
“I like how you pose that question. I’ve got no idea where he went, but where he would go? When he’d first showed up, I was a red badge. No stars yet. Lower management. So, I was there pretty often when he was laid up in FR, and the two of us would get to talkin. He’s got family out west in Texas, place called Dawson. Not anyone he would go to, unless he was really desperate. But he might send word. They might have a better idea of where he’d be.”
“They ever mention any names?”
“I think, maybe he mentioned an aunt McKelsy.”
“McKelsy Cavanaugh?”
“I wouldn’t guess as to her last name.”
“Well. Thank you for you help.”
“Of course, Agent Brinkman, uh. We’ve always prided ourselves in our cooperation with FedServ. I mean, the Federal Services, uh. Since devolution, we’ve seen ourselves, with you guys, of course, as the last bastion of the actually working federal government. Not like congress and all that circus.”
“I’ll make sure to include a full report of your cooperation, District Manager Thurston.”
“If you don’t mind, could I ask why you’re askin after Cavanaugh? I haven’t thought of him in a long minute.”
“Thank you again for your help.”
 
 
The aDrive was a slug of black. Black so matte it swallowed light. Even sitting under the street lamp it looked more like a shadow than anything of substance. 
Brinkman loved their aDrive. 
Best perk of the job. 
When they got within five feet of it, the door, imperceptible before, opened with a kind of sucking sound. Brinkman loved that shit. It was fresh as cracking open a beer. 
Then the door slid wide, revealing the lit interior. There hadn’t been a hint of it before. It unfolded like some secret. They got in, sat on the forward facing bench seat. Hell, it was more a couch. Button-tufted burgundy leather. Dark gray carpet and ceiling. Warm recessed light along the edges. Brinkman loved this thing.
“A-0 616 Start,” they said. 
The purr of the engine turning poured through the speakers. The vehicle was completely sound proof. It was the actual engine he heard. There was no way anyone inside it could hear the aDrive’s engine, but the car companies had found that people didn’t like being in cars that had no engine sound. There was something creepy about it. So they’d come up with the idea of playing engine noise through the speakers. They had offered Brinkman the sounds of a 428 Cobra Jet from a classic mustang, or a 512 V10 from a viper, or a Ferrari 250TR’s 3 liter V12, but Brinkman’d asked if they could mic the engine of the car and amplify that. They’d been a bit confused at the department, but it hadn’t been a problem. Most of the aDrives on the road these days, even the manual vehicles for that matter, had some kind of bullshit endorphin pumping engine noise piped in. It didn’t make any sense to Brinkman. Even if they weren’t driving, they wanted to be able to hear the engine. How else would they have any idea how it was doing? Why wait until the car warns you, if you can hear problems before the car thinks they’re bad enough to bring to your attention? Damn cars were like everyone. Never wanted to admit something was wrong. 
“Dawson, Texas.”
“Calculating route,” the car’s low feminine voice responded, even as the aDrive pulled out of the WalMA parking lot. Apparently, enough of the route had been calculated to get moving.
First things first, Brinkman uploaded the video of his interview with Mx Thurston. They liked the disman. They were an interesting character. It’d be too bad if the inspector general or the WalMa oversight committee found anything actionable, but it’d mean a nice bonus for Brinkman. And of course, he’d get that bonus. There were at least three conjectures Mx Thurston had made that WalMA would not approve of.
The question about why Brinkman was asking after Cavanaugh was enough for the inspector general take action on. That question was above Brinkman’s own paygrade, much less some WalMA desk jockey. All Brinkman knew about this Cavanaugh character was that he had been in some kind of research project a decade or more before and then had disappeared. That was it. Brinkman wasn’t told when Cavanaugh had disappeared. Hadn’t been told how long ago he’d been tracked down to New Burgundy. Hadn’t been told what the “research project” was or who ran it. Hadn’t been told— 
“Bring up Dawson, Texas, residency, cross Cavanaugh, cross McKelsy.”
A light display played up between the seats. It showed the same image to either seat, but it knew where Brinkman was. The image display interfaced with his implant and smart lens. He could control all of it mentally once the interface was established. Pages flitted by quickly searching for keyword hits as the street lamps light was swallowed by the matte black slug that sped down the freeway like a darkness beyond the night.
 
 
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Nascent Loop
Public post

Right Ahead

season 1:

Deliverance from Evil

episode 3:

Extripation

____________
Mac
The City, Eastern Coastal States
____________

 
The synthel left Mike without a hangover. 
It was good for that, but if you tried to drink it regularly, it’d wipe your kidneys out in a couple years. Of course, refurbished kidneys went for a few thousand hours on the market, a little less on the blackmarket. They were accessible to most income brackets that could afford a regular synthel habit. Serious people in the city’s party scene had standing orders with their surgeons. Often, their iPlants, or whatever hardware they’d had installed, would alert their surgeon of oncoming kidney failure before it even made the patron aware. Of course, that went for more than kidneys and livers on rich party kids, but that was one of the most lucrative markets for replacement organs since the heart sleeve had made replacement hearts obsolete. Not that Mike was in the market for any of that. He’d thought about it when things were good, but he wasn’t much of a service subscriber. He wasn’t much of anything these days.
Hadn’t even been out on the town in a dog’s age. He didn’t have to worry about his kidneys, and he was glad to feel at least a little fresh, even if the synthel did leave him agitated and on edge. It was a shake day, for sure.
He was already on edge trying to figure out how he was going to live. 
The City didn’t care about any of that. It just flashed by the bus windows. 
New York City was the flagship of the Coalition of Coastal States. You might even call it the capital of the Eastern Coastal States, but there wasn’t a properly designated capital. Most of the work that would have been done in a capital was done online, via secure video feeds on CitySpace that would log watchers and votes and where minutes could be kept precisely and time over runs muted immediately.
DC was still a capital in its own mind, but only because the federal government hadn’t fully dissolved in the early twenties. Instead, it had devolved. Which meant that congress still existed, a president was still elected, and all of the states nominally recognized that they were still loosely associated under the auspices of the federal government. But, the IRS was gone. The Fed was gone. And the state department was gone, in favor of states each handling their own foreign policy. Well, at least the diplomatic aspects of foreign policy (read: trade). 
The military, of course, was much too big to go under. Rather, the military had gone private and immediately brokered accounts with various states. Some of those sates were not of the original fifty, which was an issue of contention, but no one was sure whose jurisdiction it fell in, and no one felt secure enough to take the military to task about it. If a state were to lose coverage from USJFCOM, its neighbors would start nibbling little bits off of it. A parcel of land with factory here, a few hundred acres of farmland there, a water source or some other resource wherever.
None of the devolution was planned, it had been forced by circumstance, and as such, there were no systems in place to handle many of the situations that arose. The previous sentence is much too politic to accurately describe how bad things got. 
What precedence was upheld and what precedence was shot down depended on the judge in the city in the county in the state in whichever coalition. All law was local. How far local reached was dependent only on how far it could be enforced. Which from New York, extended pretty far. The FDNYPD was one of the most well known security forces in the world.
The Coalition of Coastal States had come together by twenty five, the Eastern, Northern and Western coasts had naturally fallen into place, with little struggle. The ECS stretched from Maine through DC. Much of Virginia had become Northern Virginia, which had been ceded to the ECS by Virginia, which struggled to remain a state. 
Virginia retained its statehood by spearheading the Appalachian Coalition. Appalachia unified a wide swath of the east and south, cutting from central Pennsylvania, which was already beginning to be split between the ECS (Philadelphia) and the NCS (Pittsburg), through Virginia, the Carolinas all the way to Birmingham. Atlanta held out, joining New Orleans and Miami as the Southern Coastal States. Greater Texas had swallowed some of its poorer neighbors, and given up places that it deemed didn’t have the right populations. Well, GT was also having trouble with Houston, which was being courted by the SCS. 
It had been a wonder to see who had been willing to relocate and just how quickly. Atlanta was a new city. That’s not to say there weren’t white people there, just that, with all the history certain people had seemed so attached to, those same people were much more attached to other priorities when the city had made the decision, along with the Savannah Corridor, to join with the SCS. 
The devolution was sad, but in a way, it was beautiful also. It had been handled in a largely nonviolent, if not an entirely amicable, manner.
Well, “handled” was a strong word. If it looked like devolution had worked out, it was an illusion.
Life just keeps happening, as Mike himself had recently discovered, again. 
The federal government still existed, and ostensibly still gathered everyone under one big tent, but no one actually paid any attention to the federal government except as entertainment. Which was natural because after the dissolution of the IRS, entertainment had become the main source of federal income. 
Mike didn’t want to think about battlerap.
The bus was lumbering up Seventh Avenue with the early afternoon sun shooting down cross streets lined with stalls and food trucks. There were a few vintage food trucks. Their combustion engines weren’t legal, but the food was. So, the entrepreneurial spirit found ways to make already owned assets work. Many were on blocks and paid rental fees like any other stall, others would hitch to droneplats that would tow them wherever the business was best. These days, most of the food trucks were built directly on droneplats.
The mouths of the cross streets were thick with parked scooters and bikes. People milling around, pulling their masks down to eat, talking with friends, walking their kids. It was that time of day. 
Mike wasn’t looking out the window though. He was looking at it. Specifically, he was looking at the reflection of the other window in his window, the reflection of the reflection. A reflection of what he could see through the window, but momentarily ahead of it, as if it forecasted what was immediately to come, superimposed over the reality outside, which was always a moment behind the reflection from the opposite window. 
Each sign, each issue, each slaugger and street prophet, all seemed to meet their reflection in passing. It passed over them going the opposite direction, and they paid it as much attention as they did to just about everything else they passed. Each in their own world. Seeing only what their hardware made room for. 
The streepro were always first to catch Mike’s eye, in their upgrade kit, dripped with technological ostentation layered over an almost ascetic plainness. Gene hacked and modded with prostheses both for aesthetics and for toppin out. They were kitted to the nth. Streepro always were.
The streepro’s reflection disappeared into an old person who was speaking loudly to no one. Whether they had an implant or were dealing with some form of mental illness was anyone’s guess and no one’s business. Homeless. Fucking unions. 
Since the ECS had declared Universal Basic Income, (two years before the WCS, and the SCS, but a year after the NCS) it had been decreed that only people who could pay into the tax burden could remain as citizens of the Costal States. As such, a lot of slauggers had gone underground, literally, into the tunnels of the metro system that had been too expensive to convert for clean technologies and ended up being the dumps that kept the streets of the city so clean.
But the homeless had years since unionized. They had a business plan. The homeless were not and never could be a monolithic community, however, a large group of them in New York formed a labor union. 
What labor? Well, what could be more effective in disbanding protests and demonstrations than a horde of homeless crashing the party? It worked particularly well with the ult-right, because they felt no compunction about attacking the homeless. (Thank god for the union medical coverage!) Screens blew up with the footage, which precipitated the decline in popularity for groups on the ult-right, the boogaboo boyos, the pride boys, et al, and, in the end, cleared the way for the coastal states to reaffirm socialist underpinnings for their very capitalist society. Complete with unionized homeless.
             Now, that was a bit of an odd position. The homeless made money, which was handled by a union and paid out to them, but they had to remain homeless in order to stay in the union. Many would save the money in the union holdings until they had enough to get themselves a place and try to “make it in society.” Interestingly, though, when the homeless first unionized, the number of people from society attempting to join the union dwarfed the number of homeless attempting to reenter society. The faux-meless, as they were quickly called, thought it would be an easy life getting paid for doing nothing except showing up to a protest once a month or so. ‘Doing nothing’ was harder than many of them assumed. Not necessarily harder to do, but harder to accept. The number of people who washed out from being homeless and were repatriated into society was staggering. Fully nine out of ten who became homeless to capitalize ended up back in society, but at its lowest levels, attempting to work their way up again. Though some could depend on nepotism, which always was prevalent among hiring practices.
Another upshot of this (and there were quite a few) was that the actual crazies, who were homeless because they’d been lost to addiction or to mental illness, could often fly under the radar in the camouflage provided by the working homeless. Which meant that when you saw an older homeless person talking to themself, it was a pretty even 50/50 break whether they were talking to figments of their imagination or to someone through a ridiculously expensive hardware implant.
Mike didn’t pay them any mind.
He didn’t want to pay anything any mind.
He would have put his buds in, but his ears were blasted from the night before. Besides, he was tired of music. Of constant noise. Constant stimulation. There was enough stimulation if you took it in at its natural pace and didn’t shove it into your head along with everything that was already headed that way.
Mike didn’t want to think about it. 
Didn’t want to think.
It was a new day. 
He ground his teeth.
Mike was less than excited. Somehow, he had to make rent. His space wasn’t going to pay for itself. Or his fucking screenbill. His bank service had been pinging him lately. Warning. They liked to let you know before things went too bad ever since the twenties when they got stuck with a lot of debt, the second great recession. The Fed had dropped the rate to zero, but they couldn’t do more than that, and the lending had gotten out of hand, again. The government had been giving tax breaks to the corporations for decades; inflation was already high over depressed wages in most places, so the cake fell. And this time, rather than being able to save the banks, the government couldn’t save itself. The Treasury ended up printing money to fill the banks, and by that point, the whole thing was shot. Of course, the decimation of the dollar succeeded in destabilizing a lot of countries that had their currency backed in the US currency (the administration claimed that as strategy after the fact.). The fact that many other well to do nations tumbled with them saved the states from entirely submerging in the global economy. It was probably all that did. That wasn’t entirely true, but the states that had submerged had often been swallowed by their neighboring states, when there was any economic viability in it. There were more than a few towns that had been abandoned wholesale. Ghost towns dotted the South and Midwest.
 But here in the City, Mike had to pay his bills. So, he had to get paid. When he was a university student in Lubbock, he’d really thought being a time travel technician would have been more lucrative. That wasn’t fair. It had been lucrative for a while, and the Pastion Institute had paid for his education, his “scholarship.” But now, five years after graduating and taking the job at Pastion, he was out looking for odd jobs whenever he wasn’t needed at the office.  
Which was most of the time.
It’d been so good to begin with. The first few years, he couldn’t spend his money fast enough. It seemed like it would be that way forever. All the promises of a future in time travel were panning out as advertised. 
It wasn’t really time travel, but no one cared. People loved it. 
You weren’t going back in time, you were entering memories, someone else’s memories, the Thymesian, they were called at first, Tymies, later. So, like, seeing the Stones at Hyde park or going to Coachella in 2007, or living through the battle of Kadesh, or surviving Aleppo, or the quake of ’22, experiencing it exactly the way the brain chemistry said the Tymies had experienced it themselves. 
It was huge. Better than VR by a mile. No head gear, nothing. It was like a lucid dream. And you were in the person’s memory, as them, so every decision they made felt like you made it. You felt like you were in total control, because they had been in total control when they created the memory. Well, optimally. Or not. Some great memcaps were memories from… subordinate positions, but you knew what you were getting into. Managing the client’s expectation was almost as important as managing their brain chemistry throughout the experience.
Then someone got the idea of memcapping engrams from people who’d known celebrities as children, who had seen them before they were famous, friends who had lunch at the local diner with them. Pastion’s sales had gone through the roof.  They’d already been making money hand over fist. Now, Mike had been sure, he was set for life. Even thinking of that era washed his thought process in acid. Bitter, etching acid. Life had been so perfect. Everything he’d dreamed before he left Frisco. But of course, it had to be taken too far. 
Disreputable memcap outlets had been in on porn from day one. Most of the porn stars were really into it, because they could make money without having to do any new work. But as soon as the celebrity dam had burst, people who’d had sex with celebrities started selling their memories to those porn memcap clearinghouses. So now, all these different celebrities sex memcaps were available. Different celebrities, yeah, but it was the Kristin Dibon memcap that did it all in. 
Pastion never sold those experiences, but plenty of seedy purveyors made the memcaps available. They were there, and there was no way to keep people from getting ahold of them. Pretty soon Kristin Dibon took Pastion to court, claiming Pastion had infringed on Dibon’s right to privacy and had participated in nonconsensual pornography. However, Pastion had records showing that they’d never had anything to do with the particular memcap in question. The fact was that Pastion had created the technology, but they hadn’t created or sold all of the content used by the technology. The courts sided with Pastion, so, Dibon brought a second suit, this time claiming her intellectual property rights had been infringed. The argument was that her image was her intellectual property, and memcapping as a technology infringed on her property. This time the courts sided with Dibon, though the ruling was largely symbolic. The ruling did give Dibon the right to “protect” her intellectual property, the language ambiguous enough to be meaningless. Dibon took that part of the ruling as a kind of carte blanche, and to insure her rights, she paid to have a virus designed that would attack any engram with Kristin Dibon in it, censoring her from anyone’s memories so that she could never have her image and property rights co-opted by memcaps again. 
People in Mike’s industry had vaccines developed, to keep viruses that attacked engrams from working on them, as they had to be able to monitor all memcaps that where offered. So Mike and his colleagues were well aware of the situation, whereas the other people on the bus had forgotten completely who Kristin Dibon was. As had everyone else. When her designer virus went to work, its main casualty was her career. And Mike’s. Memcap income bottomed out pretty hard after that. The thought put a sour look on him. The acid boiling forth. 
His screen buzzed.
Fuck. It was his mother. In Frisco. Alone. Wanting to talk, of course.
Mike put the screen to his ear, took a sighing breath and answered.
“Hey, ma.”
“Oh, thank you so much for calling, Mike. You’ve no idea how good it is to see your name on my phone.”
“Uh… yeah, ma. You know, I’m always thinking of you.”
“Bless your heart, son. Thank you.”
“But, uh, I’m actually headed into work. I just wanted to hear your voice and uh tell you that I love you.”
“You calling your poor mother uh, son? They got you talkin like a yankee up there!”
“C’mon ma, I’m on my way into work. I can’t do this right now. I just wanted to tell you that I love you.”
“Thank you, son. You make your mother’s heart sing.” 
He could hear that she was crying. 
“I’ll call soon when I have time to talk.”
“Alright, Mike.” Gathering herself back in. “Thank you for calling.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
After she hung up, Mike, still holding his screen to his ear, said “is that your idea of a joke?” 
After a short pause the screen answered, “it’s been two months.”
“Today is not the day for you to have an attitude with me.”
“Look, Mac, it’s your mother. You told me you wanted to make sure she was as happy as she could be. So I did.”
“Yeah, well. Work on your timing. It could be a little better next time.”
“It really couldn’t have been better. You’re almost at your stop. Quit getting distrac—”
Mike hung up on his screen and was putting it in his pocket when a teenager walking down the aisle said, “Wizard screen, dunny, that thing is jagger! Is it original or a copy?”
“Nah, kid, it’s just a copy.” Mike replied as jovially as he could manage. As if he’d say on a bus that he had an original iPhone 4 body. Much less to this kid he didn’t know from Adam. Wannabe streepro. 
“Aw, juck, but that’s cool, though. It’s still glide!”
“Uh, thanks.”
“Straight jagger, dunny.” The kid said, walking away.
Yeah. Jagger. 
Mike hated that shit. 
But, his iPhone? His iPhone was one of the last splurges he had been able to afford. He’d rodded it himself. 1.5teras, with a solid 2PHz multi-core. Projection A4 touchscreen. So retro. So future. So powerful. The new iPhones were buds with projected watchscreens, but you could always get an iPlant. Samsung had gone all implants with hardware solid enough to take software updates without needing any change for a few years. Their goggles could be switched out with all kinds of upgrades that all worked with the hardware systems. The hardware systems were tiered of course, with the plat level being ridiculously outfitted. And ridiculously expensive.
Everyone said the surgeries weren’t too invasive, but Mike liked the old style. He liked getting ridiculous performance out of his handheld. He liked the weight of it. He liked not going under a knife. Besides, now, with the state of his finances, it wasn’t really an option. And his screen, well, it was absolutely state of the art. In 2032. 
Like just about everything Mike had. Still, good enough to get by, but a couple years out of date. 
“It’s your fucking stop, Mac.” His screen said through his pocket.
“Fuck off.” Mike replied, standing and making his way to the door as the bus glided to a stop. 
The restaurant was something like half a block away. 
His stride was quick, but it was the City. Everyone’s stride was quick, well, most everyone. It was the City, so even the natural urban stride with its ‘get the fuck out of my way’ attitude could be slowed by an octogenarian whose ‘walk the fuck around me’ attitude swung with more weight. 
Everyone was on the street. Fast, slow, tall, short, in every form of fashion yet invented. Some debuting, most likely. No one paid much attention. Every color and style of hair: frosted cotton candy hawks and opalized spkies. Platnium bobs and blowouts, edge lines and fades, braids and free swinging long hair. Nothing new had been created for hair in the last fifty years, but everything had inched toward its incrementalized perfection. 
The bone grafts and prostheses, the hardware implants; those were new. They weren’t necessarily all “legal” surgeries to perform, but the were no legal repercussions to having had the surgeries performed. iPlants and android hardware were perfectly legal to have implanted, but fashion forward thinking streepros were constantly pushing the limits of what was possible.
Elite streepro would fly to Chiba to get work done, but most would find black market shops in the City or just head to Durango. It might not be as reputable as Chiba in Wyoming, but since Wyoming, along with Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas went full libertarian after devolution, all kinds of questionable doctors had gathered in Durango, feeding off the former resort atmosphere and practicing all kinds of weird science on the willing and the paying. That was scary shit to Mike, though. He’d had a recurring nightmare as a kid, looking at one of those quacks as he went under. 
Surgery was easy for most people though. It seemed like, at least. There were some people who still showed their age, but you didn’t even have to go under the knife for that anymore anyhow. Plastic surgery was just how elective surgery had been normalized. Gene therapy creams were available over the counter at RiteGreen’s. Looking your age seemed like a moral and aesthetic choice, a stance that the individual was taking. It was punk. Counterculture. A counterculture exclusively for those who could show their age. Which is tantamount to saying a counterculture to which the media paid no attention at all. 
Everyone paid attention to success story that was RiteGreen’s. RiteAid and Walgreen’s merged, adding cannabis and CBD dispensaries to each of their locations and obtaining exclusive rights to sell Prescogene’s Anti-Aging Hand and Face Lotion (which actually worked). They took over the between-convenience-store-and-grocery-store-sized-store market. Which was too say, RiteGreen’s became the place for the elderly. “Gen X” couldn’t get enough. RiteGreen’s themed their dispensaries after BlockBuster’s. Not in the experience so much, but in the aesthetic, and the edibles. Because candy. And Blockbuster. Not much to add there. Their marketing was genius. Touched. Well, for the very limited scope of their ambitions. 
The youth seemed disinterested in the entire experience. Cannabis wasn’t the drug of choice with them. It was well and good when things were well and good, but these days, you had to stay sharp. They preferred dExtra, mephadrone, duocane, and maybe an ox or some fent to chill out.
Mike wondered which they were on as a clump, a certain unnamed tribe of youths, passed him together, wondered which ones were chewing their lips under their masks. Otherwise everyone mingled. A panoply of moving color and texture. It was almost impossible not to get lost in it. Like one of those old Attenborough nature shows. Like that old shit Nassarian had shown him, Koyanisqaatsi. Where the fuck had she dug that up from? The internet was a wild place. Nothing got by it. And if it was there, Nassarian would find it. Not like she was a great hacker. No. Mike would have put money down that wherever the fuck she was, she didn’t even have a screen. Mike had been the coder, but she would find the most fucked up, weird, amazing videos and music. She could rabbithole ideas and come out with dissertations worth of shit like, “here, watch this.” 
Those had been some fucked up years.
Nassarian would have fit perfectly in these crowds, as foreign as they might seem to her. She had always been her own thing. She might have been closest to something like a slaugger. She’d had some slaugger friends. Real deal though. She never bougth in. A hipster slaugger or something. One of the ones who goes by the aesthetic while not going whole hog on the philosophy. Hipster slauggers probably accounted for most of the ones in the city. Most the one’s you’d see anyhow. 
You didn’t often see real slauggers. 
See, the city had banned internal combustion engines in what? 2020? Hell, it had almost been fifteen years. But there were plenty of vehicles around, electric aDrives, bicycles, droneplats, rollers, scooters, skateboards of all kinds of description, even some antique segways, and of course, the long slim buses that fairly dominated the city now. They’d even shut down the MTA. The tunnels were used for waste management in a stopgap measure in 2024. The declaration had basically been that if you could drop it down there, good riddance to it. There were no restrictions on dumping in the old subway tunnels and stations. It was the Wild West for a few years. The measure proved extremely unpopular. A kind of political third rail. A moral uproar went up around it, even as almost every human being in the city utilized it. People loved tossing their shit down there like it didn’t matter. The City finally halted the ordinance and everyone rejoiced even as they rushed to get rid of old furniture before the date of the law’s change. That entire time and since, the only people who stayed down there were the slauggers. The real ones. 
The clumps of kids playing hanging drums and dumbeks on street corners that forced Mike to step over them had places to sleep in apartment buildings in the City. A few were Mike’s neighbors at the lot. Mike needed an antacid.
The streets shooting off the sides of the avenue were filled with stalls and stands. Smells wafted out them as Mike walked past, surrounded by a mass of pedestrians. Getting on and off those damn buses. Buying something suspect to eat fresh out of the frying oil, or looking over a rooftop gardener’s produce. Some making an imitation of happiness that they’d seen imitated similarly on the latest screenflick. Some looking just as joyless as Mike was sure they must actually be.
Mike was surprised at himself. He’d had an amazing night. He’d seen good friends. He’d run into Stazy. He hadn’t had to pay for a thing. He should be in a good mood.
Right. He’d also lost his only source of income other than his CityCheck, which wouldn’t cover his screenbill, much less his space. He’d also just turned 28. He hated birthdays. He hated birth. Why did it keep happening?
Fucking flesh sacks. Tugging around their fuck trophies all dressed to the nines like little dolls. He was sometimes surprised families didn’t stop, pose and turn around all in unison. With cameras flashing all around. He swore that was what the families looked like they expected.
Mike shook his head, and turned to walk in the open door of the restaurant. He turned about a foot early and stepped full force into the wall, head first, splitting his eyebrow wide open. 
“Shit.” He pressed his hand against the gash to stem the blood, but it was coming fast, down his face. He looked at his reflection in the door, open across from him. 
“Hi, I’m here about the ad for service staff.” He smiled. Didn’t really work with half his face covered in blood. “Fuck.” 
His hand was about covered. His shirt was joining pretty quickly. Now, he had to cross town to his space on a goddamn bus holding his fucking face together. Would they even let him on a bus like this? Their gleaming white, antiseptic New York electric buses. Hell, he could catch a charge for being a public contagion. They were getting more and more strict about that. Would he have to walk? Maybe there was a clinic on the way. But walk? Really? He needed to get the 6 back to crown heights. This day just kept getting longer.
And again, “fuck.”
Mike looked in the door. There wasn’t much to see. 
The lights were down. 
Two lemons and a plastic cup under a table. Music drifted out of the kitchen along with the sounds of laughter and plates. Flies buzzed and stopped, idling a moment on a glazed tabletop. Mike was almost shocked to find a place like this in the City. It reminded him more of the restaurant he worked at in Lubbock than Del’s. That high-faluted self-impressed piece of shit muff huggin gargle blasting narcissistic house of bastards. Whatever.
“Uh, hello?”
Mike looked across the restaurant floor. The lino floor pealed under chrome barstools with red cushion tops that spilled their yellow guts like presidential administration officials. The place was empty, but for the few flies and the music that came softly from behind the kitchken doors. Which only opened after Mike had cleared his throat and attempted his greeting with a little more force. There was some conversation behind the doors that Mike couldn’t discern, and a head (a shaved head, no eyebrows, mask) popped out of the doors and said, “Yeah, buddy, uh, we ain’t open.”
“Yeah, no, I was here about a job ad I saw posted on the CitySpace/nysi page, but, uh, now I need somewhere to clean up, and uh, you wouldn’t happen to have a first aid kit I could use would you?”
“Aw, damn, buddy, are you okay?” The head was followed by a body, a whole person, shuffling toward Mike in rubber clogs, their plastic apron wobbling with that watery bouncing sound as they moved.  
Mike replied, “yeah, just a … misunderstanding.” About where a door was.
“HAH! I have misunderstandings all the time, myself.” The head-turned-body said. “I’m Joey,” they said as they thrust out a hand at Mike. 
“Uh, yeah,” Mike replied, bumping Joey’s right hand in his left, since Mike’s right hand was blood covered and still holding his face together. “Nice to meet you Joey, I’m Mike.”
“Mac?” Joey answered. “Alright, let’s get you to the first aid kit.”
Their first aid kit was massive. At least, to Mike. It was a cabinet, the door lined with pill dispensers, each with its own graphic label: HeadHelp™, Gas Gone™, Flare Away™. It had packets with alcohol swabs, antiseptic spray packets, hemostatic adhesive bandages, gauze rolls, suture kits, tweezers, eye wash, burn cream. 
Mike washed his hand and face. His brow was split, but it wasn’t too deep. The Johnson and Johnson Chitosan Band Aid™ would suffice for his needs.
“Industry, aren’t ya? Ya see, kid, this is why you shaved your face, ain’t no hair to worry about getting in that cut, hell, or taking off that bandage. And if you got that job here, you’re already shaved up and ready to go. Bosses’ll love that. Of course, they won’t love the cut over the eye, so. But, really, though, buddy, I’m glad we could help and all, but you’ve still got blood all on your shirt. If an inspector comes in here, we could take a ding, and my boss wouldn’t be too happy about that, so come back tomorrow, cleaned up and you know, ship shape, as they used to say, and try in like an hour, you know? Like closer to three is when Benny’ll be in and looking to talk, but I’ll tell em you came by. I’ll tell em ‘a kid, Mac, came by, great kid, looked good, I told em to come back tomorrow around four or so, boss,’ so, that’s what I’ll tell em, and you’ll come by tomorrow, right? Jagger. Right, well, I’ll see you tomorrow. Try not to have any more misunderstandings! HAH HAH!”
And Mike was out front, looking back as Joey disappeared into the restaurant, dissolving into the music wafting lightly out of the kitchen. Mike wasn’t sure how that place had stayed open. But, he had his own problems to deal with, now.
Mike looked at his reflection in the door again. 
The bandage pulled his brow too tightly, giving his face a quizzical look. A grotesque Jack Nicholson look. All work and no play. God, he was a sight. Split eyebrow. Eyes heavy, red. Rusty bloodstains dripped down his shirt. His only good shirt left. And it reaching to threadbare. Whatever. Nanopor Poly was out, anyway. Made you look like such a grease ball. He needed something new. He must still have credit somewhere. He must still have something left. When did his eyes get so bad? He stepped toward the door, pulling his left eyelid down. There were no worms.
Mike shook his head and started down the street, walking over a grate in the sidewalk, a vestige of the old subway days. In places where the grates got good light, you could see the green of the slaugger farms underneath. Mike had seen them himself.
“Watch out, garçon!” 
Mike barely heard the wheels before they swarmed around him. Bunch of fucking bama ass Bamf boys. The kid who yelled, making fun of Mike’s shaved head, caught Mike’s eye, still bloodshot. Shirt bloodstained. The shiner just beginning to rise. The bandage above his eye that pulled the skin together too tightly. 
The kid, resplendent in their Bamfi-ness, JNCOs and a flannel over a birdhouse t-shirt, choked a laugh but couldn’t seem to break eye contact for a moment. They lost it and plowed into a commuter on a VespElex. The other bamfs skated on without them. Laughing. They were alright. So was their victim, having been shielded by the scooter’s hyper responsive re-inflatable airbags. They shot out fast enough to catch the skater and bounce him back into traffic, without much disturbing rider much at all.
Well, the commuter was left yelling after the bama about how long it takes for the airbag to suck itself back in and how they lacked the time to deal with the result of the skater’s stupidity. 
Mike wanted to laugh, but his head hurt and the commotion and yelling hadn’t helped any. Mike hated any thing to do with BAMF. They may have begun as a graffiti crew, but that had been fifty years ago. By thirty years ago they’d been a street gang. And by twenty five, they’d gone into “security.” 
By now, most of these kids were wannabes, hang-arounds who would pledge when they got old enough or serious enough, or they were hipsters, into the look but not actually affiliates.
At first, BAMF attempted to regulate on the perpetrators, but then they, BAMF, realized that the wannabes only heightened BAMF visibility and offered them an easy scapegoat whenever they were caught out. “Wasn’t us. Must have been wannabes, kids and false flags trying to discredit our name. Couldn’t have been us because we don’t do whatever it is, so by definition, etc etc ad infinitum.” 
The BAMF-boys had grown in influence and power, but graffiti itself had faded.
The city didn’t play, and even line tags or slaps were only left to ride in the derelict spaces. Slauggerhia. Underground mostly.
Graffiti had become almost derelict, and so itself was in the realm of the slauggers. The slauggers also had roots in a graffiti crew, but one that had gone the militant protest route, and when that seemed to fail, the survivalist scavenger route. Now, when they tagged, it was in tar and homemade inks that etched glass and metal alike so that any attempt to buff the tag clean would only reveal the depth of the damage. They still got up in the city periodically, but not too often. The FDNYPD didn’t play games with cosmetic crimes.
There were old school graff heads who blamed slauggers for “destroying the culture” because slauggers largely didn’t use spray paint, since they didn’t have a way to produce it themselves. Of course, that was just a bunch of handwringing and pearl clutching, as the rail freight systems were still largely covered, even if the lines only still ran because a few rich artists kept them going for people to paint on.  They’d converted to electric engines and ran cars with clean flats on both sides, and always a few cars with doors and amenities for anyone about that hobolife.
Some claimed it wasn’t graffiti if it wasn’t illegal. Some claimed that it wasn’t hobolife if there were amenities provided. Some claimed that—
Mike’s screen rang. 
It didn’t have to. Should have buzzed, unless it was an emergency. Mike was pretty sure it knew he had a headache. Fuckin screen.
Mike didn’t recognize the number or the name: Wes Evans Marriage Counseling, but it wasn’t blocked. He wasn’t sure he wanted to answer anything at the moment. His head hurt. Fuck it.
“Uh, hello?” he answered, but the line was ringing. “Damn screen,” he was saying as the line picked up.
“Thank you for calling the offices of Wes Evans, Marriage Counselor, are you calling in reference to the job posting?”
“I... uh, yuh, yeah, yes.”
“Good afternoon, Mr…”
Mister? He hadn’t heard that in ages.
“Doyle. Michael Doyle.”
“Thank you for calling, Mr. Doyle.” Processing. “So, this vacancy is for someone with experience as a memory capture technician.” The nasal voice stopped a moment. “Well? Do you have memory capture technician experience?”
“I do.”
“With whom do you have said experience?”
“The Pastion Institute.” Mike responded confidently; Pastion was the industry leader.
A pause.
“Are you available to come in and talk with Dr. Evans this coming Thursday?” (the “doctor” was new, huh. Was just Wes a second ago.)
“That shouldn’t be a problem. Where are your offices?”
“1202 South Sheridan.” She paused, waiting for recognition. She continued only when none registered.
“Tulsa. Oklahoma. Greater Texas.”
What. The. Fuck.
A fucking red state? Growing up in Texas had been enough sacrifice, hadn’t it? The culture in the city didn’t always sit well with Mike, but still, it was miles ahead of the red states.
“What kind of compensation are we discussing?” Mike said after the pause.
“Well, Dr. Evans is working on a new application for memory capture technologies, utilizing their unique characteristics to help struggling couples to understand what each other are going through.”
“That’s an interesting use for the technology.”
“Isn’t it?”
“What kind of compensation are we discussing?”
“Well, long term it will depend on the success of our trials, so we can’t really talk salary.”
“We can’t?”
“The compensation for our four trial couples will be 10,000 hours for each. We will pay accommodation expenses if you’re chosen.”
“I’m in New York.” 
There was a pause.
“You said that you’ve experience with Pastion?”
“I started with them in August of 2030 under Simon Petro.”
“Directly under Simon Petro?”
“Yes, uh.”
“When and why did you leave the Pastion Institute?”
“No, no, I still work there. There just isn’t much work.”
“And how would Mr Petro feel about your coming to work in Tulsa with Dr. Evans?” (Mister wasn’t really surprising now that he knew the call originated in Oklahoma. Hell, the caller probably didn’t even appreciate Mike’s use of the unspecified honorific. But then, to be fair, Mike had no evidence that the caller was even a person.)
“Well, as you said, this is just on a trial basis. I don’t see any conflict of interest. There are only a few formulas that are Pastion patented, and I know work-arounds so we shouldn’t be infringing on any intellectual rights.”
Another long pause, and a young street prophet walked past Mike, one eye behind a yellow plexi lens that showed the reverse image of the information it displayed to its user. That was pretty flash. So were the twin bone growths grafted along each side of their skull. Hair grew around the bone grafts, pulled back between them, straight down on the sides. The street prophet wore a long, thin robe over a rosary of usb drives and low crotched pantaloons. Mike only noticed them because of the glint in their eye when they saw his screen. But the prophet walked on and Mike realized that the voice on the other side of the line had spoken.
“Excuse me, what was that?” He asked as politely as he could muster.
“I think the doctor would be willing to pay your travel expenses.”
Mike almost stopped in his tracks. 
Finally. 
Score one for the good guys. 
But! 
But, but, but! 
In a fucking red state.
“So, four trial couples; capturing and then the experience; we’re looking at, what, week and a half, two weeks?” He asked.
“We had a very similar schedule in mind.”
“So, Thursday, then?”
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Nascent Loop

Right Aheadseason 1:Deliverance from Evilepisode 2:Chirality

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Nascent Loop
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Right Ahead

season 1:

Deliverance from Evil

episode 1:

Ablution

______________

Mac
The City, Eastern Coastal States
______________
  
Mike walked in the back. Up a concrete ramp, slick with wear. The ramp led to a recess where he turned right and hit the double doors squarely with his shoulder. The doors popped open, and he walked through a foyer into a brightly lit space and across it to the locker room. If a head turned, he didn’t notice it. He wasn’t late, but he wasn’t early enough for the mans to be happy with him.
Everything went into the locker, all his belongings. Everything. Even his screen. The mans were strict about that. They even made emps turn their iPlants off. Seemed like a human right’s violation. All of it seemed like human right’s violations when he stopped to think. 
Best not to. 
He came out of the locker room naked and stepped into the showers. 
They hit him with the powder. He held his breath. 
The first time, he hadn’t been expecting it. The two piece-of-shit secmans had got a good kick out of that. Mike had about died choking on the delousing powder. Shit itched like all hell on the skin. He was sure it was designed to itch. It probably was entirely ineffective against any bacteria or bugs or whatever they said they were after. All it effectively did was inflame the epidermis enough to make it shed its outer layers. He was positive that was what it was really about. 
Breathing that shit in, his esophagus had spasmed and he tried to retch, but that made him breathe more deeply which made him choke harder. He’d kept his feet, but his body had been wracked with paroxysms. He thought he'd cough up a lung.
The secmans had laughed and laughed.
Then hit him with the hose. 
The water sprayed out of the hose hard, but not hard enough to knock him down. Not since that first time, at least, but he’d barely been standing when they’d hit him with it, then. 
Now, they sprayed him from head to toe and back up again, and he tried to block the spray from hitting him directly, recoiling from its force and putting out his hands. There was no dignity. That was gone with his human rights.
They kept spraying him up and down long after he was washed clean of the powder. The pressure of the water had him against the wall, struggling to breathe. They cut the hose and tossed him a thin towel. 
He toweled himself off, went and sat at the end of the bench, and they shaved his head clean again. It had been a week since they had shaved it last. Even with as little growth as he had, a week was as long as they would let it go. They shaved his whole head, not just his scalp, his face and eyebrows as well. It wasn’t too surprising. The secman who was shaving him had no eyebrows either.
When they had finished with the shave, Mike returned to the locker room to moisturize, put in his non-itch eye-drops and his catheter, strap the latter’s bag to his leg and got ready for what promised to be a long night. 
Next, he put on a non-latex long sleeve top. Vented armpits, at least. That was new. The old models trapped your heat so effectively two servs had been taken out with heat stroke.  The Contagindic8 hex print was newer too, but not as new as the vented armpits. The leggings still weren’t vented. Perplexing. More heat down there. Which meant it was always funky at the end of a shift too. They would never vent the lower body. They didn’t want to vent people’s funk. He pulled on the little non-latex booties and gloves. 
Dressed like that, in his non-latex bodysuit, he walked to the linline, and took a shrink-wrapped pack off a hanger. He took the pack to his locker and broke its seal. First he pulled out the extremely starched white herringbone Egyptian cotton wide collar shirt, then the dove grey slacks, the red brocade waistcoat and full Windsor knotted grey silk tie. 
He took the electrode lozenge off the shelf in the locker and slid it in his ear.
Mike couldn’t believe he was waiting tables again.
 
Waiting tables wasn’t a normal profession anymore, but he had done it all through college, so he had experience. And when his work had dried up, it had been something he could fall back on. Luckily for him, the City had automated faster than Red States, and there was little chance of most New Yorkers his age having experience. So, the dice fell in his favor that way. His career was over, but he could still wait tables. 
Now days, all food service was… automated wasn’t really the right word. Everything was counter service or take away. At the higher end places, there might be two or three actual humans working. Most food preparation was automated. Some places might have some human component in preparation, a chef with a name, or something like that. Even then, most of the prep would be automated. At some point of service, someplace in the front-of-house, there may be human interaction, there might not. It wasn’t necessary, but a lot of places had someone on staff. Someone who could interact with guests, in some cases, but whose real job was to troubleshoot any glitches in the computers or machines themselves. Working in service was always stressful, no matter how it changed.
There was a place Mike had heard of where the only point of human contact was an advertiser. Corporations paid the establishment for the right to spiel the guests as they ate. The guests ordered off a screen built into the tables. The food was served on conveyer belts. And since the corporations paid, the restaurant didn’t charge the guests at all. Craziest thing. “Corporations actually giving back.” At least, that was how they spun it. Wait list was two months long even though the food was shit. From everything Mike had heard. 
There were also Hong Kong style eateries, which were popular on the Coasts. In those, guests sat in booths that were set against (that is perpendicular to) a cylindrical wall. The cylinder had a window for each table where the server took the order and an aperture where they slid the food and drinks onto the table. The bartender stood in a circular bar in the center of the cylinder, from where they could see all the tables, and all the tables could see them. Flair bartending had made a comeback. Sadly.
 There were two HKstyle places in the City, and neither was great. One had a lot of red lighting, and, with the window on the bartender, it had reminded Mike of what he imagined an Amsterdam sex show was like. That had pretty well turned him off to the idea as a whole.
Now, Delmonico’s Twenty-First, was a restaurant. A real restaurant. Kind of. With an actual wait staff and everything. It was a theme restaurant. A nostalgia thing. For people who had a hankering for the late twentieth century. 
And Mike knew service well enough to get work at this place. Lucky, lucky.
It wasn’t the only restaurant that operated this way in the City. There were three. But none charged a hundred hours for a plate like Del’s. The people who worked at Del’s seemed to think that meant something.
Didn’t mean shit to Mike. He was moonlighting. Or he was supposed to be, but are you really moonlighting if your primary job isn’t paying the bills? Like any bills. 
That gritted his teeth. 
What the fuck was he even doing working a job like this?
Heading to line up, asshole, that’s what. 
Keep your head on straight, kid, he thought. Quoting one of his favorite songs. 
Line up, the traditional pre-shift staff meeting, was in a brightly lit space, behind the kitchens. The space was something between a hallway and room, performing the functions of each just enough to make it a nuisance to the other. Aptly then, it was the co-mans center where the mans would watch the floor and all its action, the space where the staff and the mans could each do their own work just enough to hamper the other’s. Whatever.
Mike walked into line up with most of the other servs already there, fresh shorn for the shift. It was hard to guess at ages with no hair to go on, but Mike would have sworn that some of the servstaff genuinely were from the twentieth century. One or two might have even been serving back then. In the nineties. 
The nineties. His mother would speak the word like it was a spell. It was a spell. A spell she wove on her own imagination. It was strange how relevant aging people could feel because of the fetishization of old shit. It was weird too, or maybe just sad, how often it was the old people themselves who tried to plant the romance, the reverence, in their own children. 
Mike couldn’t say shit, though. He rocked a vintage screen, didn’t he?
“John and An4née have full sections on the floor already. Our ‘afternoon bites’ menu has been something of a success,” the agman preened. The menu must have been their idea. “Mac, you’ll phase An4née out of their servsec so they can move to the PDR for the nine o’clock reso for the IodeCorp party.”
Mike nodded, though he wasn’t sure he’d heard what had been said. Did he ever? 
Not at Del’s. Here, he let everything in one ear and out the other. Otherwise he wouldn’t know which way to go except insane. There were just too many voices. Geeman, agman, efman, bevman, secmans Del’s had a manager for everything. And each of them thought their word was the be all end all. Until the geeman spoke, of course. 
The agman was the worst of them all, though. By far. They wore full spectrum goggles that opaquely covered the top half of their face. The goggles plugged into their ear and into a prosthesis built into their left frontal lobe. Mike had often wondered exactly what kind of work the agman had had done. But they hadn’t broached the subject with Mike, even knowing Mike’s background, so Mike hadn’t brought it up either.
The efman was standing in front of a bank of vidscreens showing the restaurant floor in its entirety. The cameras’ feeds were seamlessly stitched into one image. An impossible image. It was almost like a panoramic picture that’s been taken angled toward the sky, so that whatever ground is in the photo looks like a tiny planet floating surrounded in the blue sky. The floor of the restaurant seemed like its own distorted planet floating in the bright lights of the ‘windows’ that surrounded the dining room. 
On the left side of the vidsreens a vertically scrolling list of reservations ran seemingly infinitely, but it only repeated itself incessantly. On the right a stationary list of tables sat, each ringed in a soft color that was adjusted to indicate the stage of service in which the table was engaged. Almost rendered into silhouettes by the brightness of the ‘windows’ on the vidscreen, two secmans were sitting, tablets in hand, confirming reservations and making reservations for later services on their iPlants. The efman wore a keypad on their chest. They were constantly hitting colored buttons and speaking into the mic that hung from their goggles. Each color designated a specific staff group. 
The agman was still speaking, Mike realized.
“Ora King salmon, pan-seared in eighty twenty, skin on—”
“Skin on,” the entire line of servers called back with varying degrees of give a shit.
The agman’s tone alone told the servers what was expected of them. Witnessing once was usually enough enculturation for trainees. There was only one that night, Mike noticed. There were usually more. 
“Served over butter sweated leeks and pan fried Brussel greens with spring garlic—”
“Spring garlic.” Mike mouthed the call back soundlessly.
The agman droned on, “…allium, dairy, obviously meat, well, fish…” Mike tuned to the action on the vidscreen. The hostaff were purple. Not pink. Mike had been warned once. Just because hosts were usually women wasn’t a good reason to color the staff pink, he had said. They had told him that he was being sexist. The asstaff lit yellow. Mike had asked if he could call them bussers or bustaff, but he was told it was demeaning. He wasn’t sure what was demeaning about bussing or what made being part of an asstaff less demeaning, but he knew well enough not to argue. At least, not again.
The efman said something into their mic and the yellow blips on the vidscreen scurried in disparate directions. Mike could almost hear the efman’s voice saying ‘no clumping.’ Bussers always wanted to hang together.
Purple blips lit up, and the efman said something into their mic. The purple blips didn’t move, but Mike would bet everything he made that night the hostaff were sweating, sanitizing the menutabs or scrolling over their reso tablets feverishly. Mike chuckled in his head, a smile spreading across his lips. The agman noticed.
“How many eighteen ounce Wagyu, Mac?”
“Kobe or just Wagyu?” Mike asked, stalling to see if either of his neighbors had scribbled the answer on their padlets.
“Someone please inform Mac why his question only further demonstrates his ignorance.”
“Uh, Kobe is eighty six,” Norv answered. Snide. The fucking sycophant.
General pronoun ambiguity presented problems sometimes, but “uh” was probably the hardest part of how they spoke on the coast for Mike. He had a hard time getting used to it. People just sounded dumb. On the coasts, instead of saying sir or ma’am, they said uh, which stood for unspecified honorific. It was a sound that people make often enough, but. Mike hated it. He understood the reasoning behind it, even agreed with it, which was surprising for someone from Texas. But uh just sounded dumb. 
“Eighty sixed since Tuesday,” the agman added with barbs.
“Six eighteen ounce Wagyu ribeyes, uh.” Mike answered, tacking on, “Still no filets, then?” He had found the answer he was looking for on Dorian’s padlet. He thought it was Dorian. Dorian always took notes. Who could tell though? Age wasn’t the only thing that was hard to guess at when everyone was shaved clean and in uniform. 
The agman didn’t look too happy that Mike had the right answer. Must not have noticed him looking over his neighbor’s padlet. Awesome.
“No filets.” They said tersely. Didn’t mention since when this time.
“Two thirty six on the book tonight,” the agman continued. “We will be taking walk-ins,” (collective groan) “but only in the bar and lounge.” (collective held breath) “Dorian, we’ll be expecting you to take those covers.” (collective sigh of relief, all except Dorian)
“Uh, yes,” Dorian answered. Three people to Mike’s left. Shit. Who was this on his right?  
“Our trainee this evening is Angela. Angela, welcome to the team. You’ll be following Clyde tonight.”
Clyde nodded at Angela. From their spot to Mike’s right. Clyde? Mike wasn’t sure he’d met Clyde yet. Damn restaurant had too much staff. 
“It seems that we need to review our tableside Caesar service. Quick quiz, what is the first thing that goes into the salad bowl?”
“Cracked fakegg,” Mike answered with the others with as much verve as he could muster for the moment. 
“And cracking the fakegg, you must maintain the illusion of the break…”
Shit. The agman would drill them until exactly five thirty and not a moment sooner. It was the agman’s time. Well, at least the geeman wasn’t telling them again how he was looking for servs with “hoptoitvity.” Which he would lovingly explain to the trainees was the characteristic that defined how quickly servs would hop to it. Corporate restaurants might be extinct, but corporate bullshit was alive and well.
A window opened on the top left of the vidscreen showing a black aDrive arrive at the valet podium, the valets scurrying around the vehicle. Since the City had outlawed the use of manual drive vehicles larger than a scooter, the podium itself did all the work. The podium would use its Valetec identikey to access the aDrive’s onboard cpu, to tell the car were to park and to link the car to the podium temporarily, so that it could call the car back. The Valetec identikey had a two-hour limit, when they would automatically call the cars to the restaurant, and the guest would be made aware. It rarely happened. The hostaff made sure people were aware of the limit when they sat. Of course, more time was available, for a price. The purpose of the two valets in the red jackets who stood by the podium, who hit unnecessary buttons to call back cars, was purely aesthetic. They hopped to, opening doors and welcoming the guests as they descended from their aDrive.
But it was 5:26.
The efman’s eyes shot wide. “The Patterson’s are here early! We need the servstaff out now! We have to go early!”
The two secmans on their tablets pulled up new pages, one jumping up and heading to the mans bureaus quickly. The agman picked up the efman’s sense of urgency but tempered it some with agman seniority.  
“OK,” they clapped their hands. “Let’s go. Goggles on, people. Earpieces are on channel eight. Click in now and get out there. Let’s make it a good night, people. Show them why Delmonico’s Twenty-First is the best restaurant in history!”
The agman fucking loved that line. Even though Mike was already through the kitchen, the voice finished directly in his ear. The words were piped in to all of their ears as soon as they clicked in. The asshole had put the channel on his headset. 
The agman was the worst. The geeman could actually be chill when they weren’t talking bullshit. But they weren’t there on a Thursday night. Thursday was the agman’s night to prove themselves. The ponce. They all were. But Mike must be too if he answered to them. Whatever.
 
The restaurant was dimmed for dinner service, holograms of candles on each table providing most of the light. The menutab was a backlit faux-parchment tablet with pinch zoom so even the elderly could read it without reading glasses. Once they learned to use it. Long red curtains hung by the ‘windows’ and served as covers for the various cubbies that served as server or busser stations (servstaff and asstaff stays) with water service or sanitizer buckets, wine bottles, silverware, what have you. 
The ‘windows’ were digital screens, 26K. They played a recording of the traffic on the corner of Second and East Sixth, May 19th 2016, every night. At least, that was what Mike had been told to tell guests. Mike had been, what, three years old then? He’d never been given a provenance on the video. But he hadn’t been given one on the Wagyu or the Ora King, either. He was only expected to repeat whatever lies he had been told. If he could do it believably, more the better, but honestly no one cared. No one, as in the mans. They couldn’t give less of a shit how convincing you were, as long as you could take a good flogging from the guests. 
The guests cared, though. The guests approved of being effectively lied to. They rewarded it. Mike walked through the midst of them toward what would be his section for the shift. They shoveled food in their mouths, talking and smacking gums. Fucking eaters. 
Where the hell had that come from? Mike wondered. 
He didn’t eat, but that was his choice. He wasn’t usually “one of those people” who looked down on others because of their choices. His mother had always taught him that it took all kinds to make the world go around. She had been an oddity in Texas, but that had been before the devolution. Well, mostly before. After devolution, Mike had still been in high school, everything had been different.
Mike didn’t like eating, or eaters, very much honestly. Honestly, he couldn’t think of anything as repulsive as the sound of someone eating. Even himself. It had nauseated him enough times before he’d known that supping was even an option, that when he found out it was, he went for it without a second thought. Now, he didn’t have to eat at all. He rarely even had a shake.  Only once a week or so, if he felt faint. Otherwise, pills and his nightly drip had him covered.
But, he had been good enough at compartmentalizing to do the work. He was surprised to find himself thinking anything like “Fucking eaters,” even in the privacy of his own mind. He shook his head at himself. 
Get your head on straight, kid, he thought. Was that going to become a theme of the night? He looked up from the tables he was walking past to the ‘windows’ beyond. 
He didn’t call them screens because they couldn’t interface as far as he knew. They just played the same video night after night. There were tables on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant being served by people in the video. The uniforms the servers wore in the video were perfect matches for the ones worn by the servs on the floor. The only difference was the actual servs’ lack of hair. Apparently, the health code hadn’t been quite as stringent twenty years prior. Eighteen years, but who was keeping count?
The pollution laws obviously hadn’t been as strict either. People were driving cars up and down the street. Most with only one person in them. One of those old lumbering combustion engine buses gasped and wheezed its way to its stop across the street. Cyclists were out. And pedestrians. Not as many as these days, but without masks or any protection. No goggles or even ear buds back then. Not as many skaters. Only one, on a classic board, trucked down Second Ave. Showed up at 7:13 and was off the other end of the window by 7:15. On the windows, the same pedestrians walked the same New York night every night. 
Mike felt like he knew them. He knew their patterns well enough. He knew the skater would olley off the curb in front of Block’s Drug almost as soon as he appeared. He knew the when the guests at the al fresco tables would show, what they would be served and when. It was almost like a metronome. Mike set his timing with his own tables by the patterns of the people who crossed the window May 19th, 2016. He knew these people, on that night, better than they had themselves. Better than they remembered by now, that was for sure. Unless one of them was a regular. 
Mike had wondered that before. Looking over the few guests yet in his section, he let his imagination play with the idea. Which of these people had come here after eighteen years, only to see their digital avatar walk out of the past to sit at a table and be served. Mike wanted it to be a regular. A person who came every night and sat in the same seat, watching their night pass over and over. In Mike’s fantasy, the night of the 19th wasn’t a special one. It was just a night, like any other when it had happened. Only special now, in retrospect. Now, it was a crystallization of a moment: a time before the world broke, or the guest’s life broke, or maybe when everything had been simpler, or at least seemed so, or maybe, best of all, just a moment from before, forever lost, no matter what it held, even if it had no significance other than of having been before. Now, it was the kernel of everything. Memory. A moment. 
Now, forever attached to waiting tables at Del’s Twenty-First. For Mike. Because of the damn ‘windows.’ Mike wasn’t allowed to call them that out loud, obviously. Copyright infringement. But he refused to think of them as ‘outside,’ which was what he was forced to say with tables. 
Mike flipped his scowl into a smile as he approached the first table of his night. 
Four top. Two couples. All adults, one couple might be old enough to be parents of one of the younger. He stepped up to the table with the reso information playing out on the inside of his goggles. Firs-tie. The Gideckis. Looked like they could be tourists.
“Uh, good evening.” He smiled broadly, including everyone at the table.
They smiled back and responded. Might be a good night, thought Mike. He spieled them specials, and held the yellow button on his padlet when he repeated their water order. His feed went directly to his assigned asstaffer, one for every two servsecs. Allergy information Mike sent back to the kitchen with the blue button. There were no buttons, obviously, just button icons on his padlet. Before Mike stepped away, one of the guest said, “I love your accent, where are you from?”
“Uh, I’m from Texas.”
“A cowboy, huh? That’s great! What’s your name?”
“I’m Mike.”
“Well, Mac, it’s good to meet you.” The guest gave a head nod, dismissing Mike. 
Mike didn’t bother to correct them. Or anyone else. After four years in the City, he had accepted his fate. He would be Mac until he learned to talk like them.
As he walked away, his earpiece picked the table up saying, “You see? That’s the level of thoughtfulness you get at Delmonico’s. The waiter probably has a full backstory about coming to the City to become an actor or something. This place is worth every penny.”
“Server.” Their friend corrected.
Mike was already heading to his second table. The Millers. Another four, parents with two grown daughters. Before he got to the table his earpiece picked them up talking:
“Who is sending their plate back tonight? Can I?”
“You always get to send your plate back. When do I get a chance?”
“Girls, girls, you both can send your plates back, alright?”
“Logan, are you sure? Both of them?”
“Yes, Harper. I am sure. We might even get the manager at the table.”
Mike gritted his teeth and went in for the spiel.
Del’s loved that shit. It was why people came. A third of the food was wasted. But really wasted. Incinerated. Throwing it in the dumpsters would have had slauggers infesting the place. Del’s wasn’t about to have that. They’d rather burn all of the waste food than feed indigent people. Mike loved his job. But really.
One of his coworkers had been fired after they showed a guest a video of their order on their pad. The guest said “I didn’t order this,” and Didi played them the gogglevid of their order on her padlet, like “this is exactly what you ordered.”
Didi’s earpiece had sent a hundred volts through her, and a pair of secmans collected her. Mike went out for a drink with her the next week. She was a good serv, a good person, but she’d just had enough. She didn’t understand Del’s. It wasn’t a restaurant. It was a theme park to restaurants. And most of the people who even wanted that, wanted it because they loved being served.
Case in point, the two gentlemen seated at table fifty-three, a four top by the ‘window.’ Good table for two old guys in suits to be taking in the second seating of the night. No reso information, so walk-ins, but in the main dining room? Someone was someone’s friend. Swanée guests. It only took a second to read that The Gentlemen had demeanors determined to cantankerous interaction. Mike chuckled in his head. They weren’t uncommon, these guys. The opportunity to talk down to someone was one of Del’s main draws. 
And never a word back. 
The Gentlemen flipped through the pages on the menutab, almost infinite pages, whiskeys, gins, mezcals, and so on. Asking after liquors that hadn’t been produced in thirty years, or cocktails the names of which they had just fabricated, or perhaps had misremembered. Mike finally was able to order a sazerac for one, though Mike was unsure that the Gentleman had a clear idea of what that was. The other shook his head and asked for the Sommelier. Mike hit the icon on his padlet to call the bevman, who scuttled across the restaurant floor with a beaming grin on his way to the table. Probably their friends.  
The Gentlemen ate as slowly as they seemed capable of. As if they preferred chewing each bite fifty times to eating the food while it was hot. Mike delivered a second sazerac to Gentleman, the First, who deigned Mike with a look and said, “I need another one of these, right away.”
Mike laughed, in what would generally be construed as a good-natured manner.
Gentlemen, the Second, asked Mike for a Knob Creek with a Jaegermeister floater. 
Mike looked at the man, stunned. 
“Yes, uh? A Knob Creek with a Jaegermeister floater?”
“Why are you saying it like a question, boy? Go get it.”
“Rocks, sir?”
“A shot.”
“Yes, uh, the policy of the restaurant is that shots are only at the bar.”
“Then neat. Can you do that?”
“Yes, uh, absolutely.”
Mike smiled and gave something between a nod and a bow and stepped away from the table, happy to get away, and with plenty to do. The second and third turns were always the busiest.
Mike returned with the Knob Creek with the Jaeger float. Gentleman, the Second, bobbed his head as if that indicated thanks and took his drink. He drank half of it in a gulp, set the glass down and made a face. “This is horrible!”
“Yes, uh.”
Gentleman, the First was tired of waiting and took advantage of his companion’s stunned silence. He gripped Mike’s arm and pointed to his glass, “I said I needed another. Where is it?”
“Excuse me?” Mike responded.
“Look at my glass! It’s empty! You didn’t think I would finish my drink before you brought the next?”
“I didn’t think you would give yourself heartburn to prove something to a server.”
The zap from his earpiece wasn’t as light as the warning the mans usually used on a first offense of the night, but Mike was already on thin ice.
 
Better clean up his act. The mans were breathing down his neck, nagging him via his earpiece. Try again.
Dorian picked up The Gentlemen. Mike was more than happy to give the geezers up, but he was sick of Dorian. The pompous, self satisfied, buck toothed, pimple. Mike wouldn’t mind popping them. 
Instead, Mike took care of the rest of his servsec. Which was already missing a table to make up the party that An4née had in the PDR. Mike was hanging in a cubby, the closest thing to a black spot in the surveillance that he had found yet. Killing time, since he didn’t have many tables. An4née was in the same position, with only the PDR to worry about. So, the two of them stood together for a minute before the mans got in their ears. An4née offered Mike a toot of dExtra by tapping the shooter on Mike’s arm. Neither mentioned it, (talking only about their tables and that in a positive way). Neither looked down at it. Mike just shook his head He might have done it, but he wasn’t into sharing nasal inhalers
An4née took a toot, said “jagger,” and stepped back out on to the floor, moving in a hurry. Fleeing the scene of the crime. Rookie. He was halfway across the dining room when he sneezed. Caught it in his elbow. Nice catch, thought Mike, watching his coworker walk back to the PDR, wiping his face with his hand. Fuck. The little hexes on An4née’s hand went red.
Mike wondered, idly, (as one does as they watch a train wreck in real time), whether it was the dExtra, an actual contagion, or just An4née’s mucus that set off the Contagindic8 hexes. That shit just went off when any bodily fluid hit it. Mike was sure of it. It was bullshit just to make the guests feel more in control. The illusion of safety.
A second after An4née’s hexes went red, two secmans popped out from behind the red curtains that led to the co-mans center. They escorted An4née off the floor, and that was it. An4née would be out on his ear.
Mike’s earpiece buzzed at him. “Mac, you’re taking the PDR. Dorian is picking up the rest of your servsec. Understood?” The agma’s voice surprised Mac. It should have been the efman.
“Yes, uh,” Mike said to the air around him in the cubby.
“We’ll be talking at the end of the shift, Mac, so, let’s see some hoptoitivity out of you.”
Mike died a little inside.
It was all right though. He’d only have one more table and be done for the night. 
Mike had half an hour to make sure the private dining room was ready, but An4née had already got it up to spec, so Mike went back to kill time in the cubby. It was too bad he couldn’t have his screen with him. A little screen time might settle his nerves, which seemed to be as frayed as a slaugger’s pant cuff. Especially after An4née. He was one of the only cool servs there. Even if he did say jagger.
A screen was out of the question. That’d be his job right there.  
No screen meant that he had to log into his padlet to see what time it was. They could track him that way, but they could track him via his earpiece, anyhow. He slid out from the curtain and crossed the wide dining room toward the arched doorway of the PDR. Even from the floor where Mike was, he could see the guests had already been seated.
Shit. He had meant to be there to greet them. Why hadn’t they notified his earpiece when they were coming in? Well. Nothing for it now. 
He stepped in the room confidently, greeting the table.
“Good evening, gentlefolk, and welcome to Delmonico’s Twenty-First.”
Only two of them even looked at him.
Sixteen guests, fourteen of them looking sullenly at their screens, whether eyepieces, contacts, handheld, iPlants. This was going to be fun.
Mike tried again and got a better reception, but never a full one. Instead, he just went down the line one by one and spoke with each guest individually. Some of them still had blank eyed stares when they turned toward him, but he muddled through. He got water and drink orders at the same time, and had the table on their way with the menutab in only ten minutes. He was feeling good about it. A good big top could change his night. 
Servs made a wage. The tip line was like a European service charge, the house took it. Like everything else. But, the restau would give bonuses to the four servs (out of fifteen a night) who had the highest total sales. Mike had been out of the running with his section, but with his servsec and the big top, he might make fourth, or even higher. Extra hundred bucks.
When he came back to the PDR to deliver the drinks, only two of the party were speaking. But the two were speaking loudly enough to be heard by everyone at the table. 
Mike delivered drinks, doing his best to ignore their conversation.
They gossiped as if they were arguing, each interrupting the other, taking space by being the loudest in a room that was dead quiet but for the two of them and Mike quietly announcing each drink as he delivered them.
One of the two said, louder than ever, “Did you hear about Stephanie?”
“No!” the other screamed in answer, “What happened?” Their entire attention rapt in the question.
“Jorge cheated on her, with a girl with a baby!”
“Oh my God!” Mike gasped.
Stunned, the entire table turned their faces on him with a collective gasp. Somehow his voice was miraculously heard and responded to by everyone who had seemed so deaf before. Mike held the pause a moment, balancing the last two drinks on his tray, enjoying himself, thinking he might attempt to greet the table now that he had their undivided attention. Instead he said:
“That’s the weirdest threesome I’ve ever heard of.”
This time the zap put Mike to sleep.
 
 
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