The message in the corner of my vision popped up again, signalling the wireless transfer of credits from Sam’s bank account into my own. I checked the receipt and slid the ‘Derms across to her. She snatched one and peeled the cover off, the only visible difference between the cover and the ‘Derm itself was the bluer hue to the patch. She placed the clear patch on a slightly paler part of her arm and thumped the back of it with the flat of her hand, and pocketed the other pair.
‘How has life been?’ she shouted over the music, already perking up under the onslaught of high grade artificial adrenaline, ‘Managed to get a real job yet?’
‘I’ve been busy enough.’ I stated flatly ‘Wish more people would pay me in credits though. Too many people bartering with me these days and I’m getting a bit pissed about it.’ I extruded a blade from my index finger and started to toy with the spilled liquids on the bar, Scoring deep gashes in the woodwork with very little pressure.
‘To be honest if things keep up the way they are I’ll end doing StimU work just to pay my rent.’
Sam was tapping the side of her empty glass in time with the music; this meant that the glass was close to shattering under the resonations of her fingertips. ‘I wrote some of the code they use in the StimU parlors down here. Paid a bundle and got to do all the “research” I needed’. She started to giggle, something she only did when she was under the heels of two or more types of drug at once.
She got off the stool and practically ran onto the dance floor; her black PVC pants shining under the light as she jumped and gyrated along with the beat.
The freelance programming work Sam did had earned her enough credits to go partying whenever she felt like it and fame enough to guarantee work. All she really did was get hold of pirated software from overseas and rewrite just enough code to avoid litigation and copyright infringements, which was usually more than what asked of her by the clients.
The piece of coding she had been talking about was part of a Japanese cyber-sex program used in interactive peep shows known as Stimulation entertainment, or simply as StimU. Stimulate you, StimU. Clever, huh. This enabled StimU models to interact with multiple clients without having to see, let alone touch them. Somewhere imbedded in the software were long lines of code written by Sam that not only made the whole thing work but enabled complete anonymity.
I was often jealous of Sam’s talent with math and coding, but desire for those sorts of skills placed somewhat lower compared to other desires such as those for a stable job or relationship that didn’t involve conceited arseholes. In other words things I would probably never have.
Getting onto the dance floor to join Sam in her gyrations proved to be more of a hassle than tracking down an empty bar stool, but I managed to get in without having to directly assault anyone. Around me a hundred pulsating bodies danced in their hundred unique styles fuelled probably by a hundred different drugs. I simply stood in the centre of the floor; eyes closed, using my other senses to absorb the atmosphere as best I could.
Concentration brought up my perception menu; I selected auditory and lowered the reception level until only the thudding bass around me was audible. The room became one giant echo, with pounding reverberations the only force I could perceive. Taking hold of another Adren patch from my pocket I peeled off the cover and slipped the transparent ‘Derm under my tongue; direct contact with tissue and muscle accelerating the chemical into my blood stream.
In the room of throbbing bass and boundless life, cast in a halo of energy and warmth, I began to dance.
Something jolted me to a halt. Barely perceptible in the ambient palpitations of life in the room was something that invaded my zone, the Adren had perked up my other senses enough to let me notice it, a feeling of strangeness around me.
Settling in to a dance pattern I cranked up my firewalls, picking up all the signals drifting around the room, hoping to find what was out of place. It was technically illegal according to about a dozen privacy acts but as long as no-body found out I didn’t consider it wrong. Most of my good leads emanated from the unchecked data traffic drifting through the air like smoke.
Sometimes a massive currency transaction would take place, or the details for some multi-media story about to break, or even the new song of an up and coming neo-industrial band in its pre-release form. The latter I would always sell to Yuka as she actually gave a shit about the music and I just used it as an excuse to get high off the sensation of it all.
Most of the traffic floating was the usual mix of appointments and minor drug deals, one of local Asian mob factions had set up a low level secure zone that melted under close inspection to reveal an arms deal taking place. I tagged the transfer details and pickup location and repaired the security before any alarms triggered.
A dozen tiny voices surrounded me, growing louder when focused on, their voices a culmination of information and secrecy. Without certain programming the voices were meaningless collections of static, confusing and useless, jumbled to all but those allotted. They weren’t really voices, in no way could they speak or even have a sound of their own, they became information absorbed by the downloading program. Instantly learned knowledge. Voices was really the only way I had been able to explain it to others. It always sounds stupid so I just told them to get the implants themselves and leave me the hell alone.
Buzzing in the ether alerted me to the presence of what I looked for. A subtle difference nearly too small to notice. I popped another Adren patch under my tongue and tried to focus, my heart beating fast, the world slowed a little more.
The static amplified, stretched around me like a web, echoing between the beats of the amplified industrial music. Worming my way through the tangled strands of signal I attempted to trace the source, complicated by the fact that it encompassed the entire room.
What the fuck?
I stared across the room, through the crowd, past the bar and the walls into the underlying current of the club. Something was watching. I could feel its proximity, felt the stare, knew its touch. For some reason it was not a stranger to me although I had never acknowledged its presence.
On the surface it felt inert, a mindless program observing the club, which was probably why I hadn’t noticed it before now. It wore the club, peeking through invisible eyes, covering its face with everything this place was.
Flexing mental fingers I plunged an observation digit into the wall of data that surrounded me, felt the reaction as whatever it was flow back through the link into my subconscious. It was stupid of me to leave an open path for it to travel back. For some reason I didn’t care. The thing felt so natural as it traversed my neural pathways, learning, experiencing. Violation should have been my concern, viruses, identity theft, illegal activities discovered. But it didn’t matter anymore.
Who are you?
The wall of information parted for my probing digit, accepting the breach as willingly as I had.
Within the inactive exterior was a complex structure far beyond my imagination. It was an intelligence without question, without attitude or bias, without malice. For the microscopic moment I was in its mind, I saw years of activity and life. The thing fed on the ambient life within this club, on its people, on its energy.
I stood awestruck. I had glimpsed into the mind of a being created and powered inadvertently by a dozen different races and untold cultures that only wished to survive, powered by the very same people who unknowingly invented it.
The thing was watching, that was all it did, waiting for a reaction. It was sentient and unblinking. It was all-seeing, endless eyes staring at me from all angles. Waiting for the show to continue.
It was the audience.
The moment died. Someone nudged me from the back and I felt my heart rate slow to near-normal. Turning I saw Sam with her arm around a tall red-headed girl in a fishnet top that left everything on display. Whatever it was that watched us was sure getting its moneys worth.
‘What’s up Em?’ she asked, nuzzling her head against the girl’s shoulder. ‘You look like you have stage fright or something.’
I glanced around the room; At the DJ booth where Yuka was working herself into a sweat fiddling with controls, at the seating area where a dozen little dramas were acted out and resolved in a heartbeat, At the back of the room where suspicious characters entangled themselves in webs of deceit and subterfuge. The club truly had a script, written by the actors as they performed it. The ultimate ad-lib.
Maybe the observer had been around since the club had a name. Maybe it didn’t matter.
I gave a shrug and poked Sam in the belly, my fingernail clinking against the multiple piercing.
‘Since when have you known me to have stage fright?’
Sam gave a quick chuckle and we began to dance again. Performing for the audience. We would put on a good show. Even if none of the other actors knew that the audience was watching.
Enjoy the show
Jamie Marriage is an internationally published Australian cyberpunk author with a taste for the dangerous and obscene aspects of life. His work ranges from the sarcastic to the satirical. Links to his work can be found at https://jamiemarriage.wordpress.com/