Echoes of Life

By Jamie Marriage


Depressing the hexagonal button on the side of my chipped MultiBand caused the holographics to emit from the scratched face for a nanosecond before spluttering back into the lens. Shit. The holo bat’ was drained again. Piece of shit merch, I extended a blade from beneath my thumbnail and used it to pry the cover off the front. Underneath, the old digital; which was supplied off a separate battery, lasted a few seconds before winking out, the green screen devoid of life. The velcro grated and fragmented as I ripped it off my wrist, the black strip of synthetic fabric and Old-Tek not even qualifying as a watch anymore. Vowing never to purchase from the Vic-Tech Market again I tossed it into a dead ‘cycler, its bin overflowed with Synth-food wrappers and scraps.

The crowd on Bourke Street faded into the surrounding buildings, those left on the pavements were the usual drunk fucks who spent every moment of their fortunately short lives verbally abusing the clientele of the various establishments. Occasionally one would accost a passer by and be either ignored or flattened by a well aimed Shocker to the face. Pungent smoke poured from wall vents, the warmth attracting some of the more sensible or sober homeless as only the prospect of something for nothing can.

I made my way past the Royal Melbourne, the new façade was the usual Neo-Tech shit much prized by investors, it didn’t help that the surrounding area had been reduced to a giant slum, as long as the new plastic and ferrochrome walls didn’t age more than a week before being redesigned who cared. It was just early enough in the night, no matter what my MultiBand had said, that groups of people were still walking in through the big shiny doors. The stonework in the back area of the club being held in such high esteem by the shit-rich perverts that the hotel had converted it into a private fetish club for the gentry. The rumor was that some younger and less decomposed homeless population were lured into the back rooms with the promise of whatever drug they were fucking themselves up with at the time and were never seen again. Knowing the moral stance of most people in this city, and the rich in particular, I didn’t dismiss it, though there seemed just as many homeless.

A group of latex-clad fetishists cut me off as I walked past the door, their luxury helicopter rose above ground traffic and sped down the street. If it wasn’t for the eight foot tall bouncer standing by the doorway; fingers gleaming with the artificial shine of steel knuckles, muscles rippling with hormone treatments, the group would have been mugged as soon as they left the vehicle.

The bouncer held up a thin black cylinder, which he flashed in each of the patrons’ eyes, the side of the device flashed green, a verified ocular identity. Doors opened and they hurried inside.

From within screams and the sound of leather on flesh could be heard; meaning that today was probably Friday, as the live whippings only happened on Fridays. It didn’t eliminate the possibility that it might not have been and people were just getting excited, but I was pretty sure of the day.

My pocket chimed some outdated tune, I removed the ‘Piece and stuck it to my earlobe, a tinny voice echoed through the minute speaker. ‘Em, where the hell are you?’ it was Sam again; she sounded tetchy, and probably would be until she drunk her own weight in alcohol. ‘My dealer left me high and dry, I need some close to human company or I’ll end up breaking something.’

‘Shut up Sam, have another drink of something corrosive and calm the hell down. I’m almost there anyway.’ Kicking a can out of my way I disconnected the ‘Piece and dropped it in my pocket. Accessing information through wireless brain implants was one thing, but until they sorted out the “Telepathy Problem” I was sticking to verbal communication.

The Telepathy Problem was one obstacle the artificial brain firmware writers hadn’t yet managed to overcome; with normal verbal communication average people have a level of control over what they say, but no matter what is being said something else is being thought. Current wireless implants transmitted every thought when a communication line was open, which made them a useful tool in psychoanalysis but more of a hindrance to everyday life; apparently CEOs didn’t like everything being public when they had meetings. So it was either verbal communication or installing an upgrade that filtered certain thoughts from being transmitted.

The little ‘Piece I owned worked with the wireless com system in my brain, unfortunately years ago I had input a ring tone and now the program was so corrupt I couldn’t remove it.

My destination was a small club further along the street, the name of which had long since faded into obscurity but the venue was still considered to be one of the local scene highlights. Occasionally some Aus-Jap band played there, mostly it was just a meeting spot used by frequent clubbers and drug dealers. The door-bitch motioned towards a sign indicating tonight’s cover charge and took my credit chip when offered. As she inserted it into the table’s soiled surface I confirmed the transaction request that appeared in one corner of my vision, the slot lit up and she handed back the fingernail-sized chip. Harsh electro-industrial pumped down the stairs, backed up by some obscene Japanese lyrics that were trying to incite a violent uprising.

‘Let me guess, Yuka is DJing again?’ the bitch nodded, I sighed. Yuka was a decent DJ most of the time; but whenever her hormones acted up she insisted on playing that sort of music, the kind of tunes that made knees buckle and furniture bleed.

Sticky suctioning noises were uncomfortably loud as the rubber soles of my boots stuck to the filthy material of the stairs; as often as they were cleaned the floor of the club couldn’t withstand an onslaught of various fluids trodden in from outside. Passing a mirror at the top I checked myself, leather pants and jacket as yet undamaged, bodice holding in the accessories adequately, hair falls managing to cover up the scar tissue from all the brain work done recently.

As was usually the case the club was packed, most of the patrons would move on to another club only to be replaced by similar clubbers. But there were still lots of faithful clients who, once annexed a barstool and bartender, would remain in the same seat until either the bar closed or their bladders ruptured. One of the patrons, a young woman with short, spiky black hair, was abusing anyone who got too close and the large glass of Synth sitting in front of her. I stood back and watched her cycle for a minute, she bellowed something at a bartender or at Yuka, who was standing at the DJ panel too far away to hear anyway, take a drink and repeat the process.

Eventually a stool next to her opened up and I closed in, managed to sit down without having to kill someone for the seat. ‘Busy night so far?’ I raised my voice to a level where she could hear me, which meant I was shouting.

The girl looked at me; under one green eye the tattoo of a thorn studded vine looked stark and intimidating beneath the strobe lights. ‘Bloody boring night actually.’ she sounded just as annoyed in person ‘This fake vodka shit is making me feel sick and my dealer pulled out at the last minute. So no Adrenals tonight.’ she slumped over the bar.

Sam was an Adren addict, which was considered one of the better class of addictions nowadays as it didn’t fuck you up as did most of the other stuff on the market. Adren was artificial adrenaline that did little more than made the user more alert and attentive, and if taken in high enough doses would put the user into an adrenaline high similar to any extreme activity. Although they weren’t as interesting as some of the alternatives on the market, Adren had the benefit of no side effects save for exhaustion.

It wasn’t exactly illegal to take the stuff, however the heavy tariff on stimulants forced most consumers to buy illegally produced dermal kits and sub-dermal delivery systems.

‘What was your dealer going to charge you?’ I took the half empty glass from in front of her and took a slug of the clear liquid, and fought off the need to vomit as the fluid hit my tongue. With the average quality of alcohol in the less thriving areas of the city it wasn’t surprising that most people sought relief by other more illegitimate means.

‘He was offering a pair of ‘Derms for fifty and a blowjob.’ she snatched the glass back and choked down the last of the contents. Poking her bisected tongue out at me.

I reached into my coat and peeled off a few of the sticky patches from the stack in a pocket. Unlike Sam my dealer was reliable and offered copious amounts of whatever was desired in exchange for certain services. Saving up a nest egg in the slums was hard enough without having to fork out for bad perk-ups.

‘Sixty for three.’ I offered, waving the patches under her nose ‘You can keep your oral sex skills for someone who needs them.’ As attractive as I found Sam’s body nothing short of a full-frontal lobotomy would get me interested in her personal issues…again.


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