by Stewart Wilson
My name's Malone. I'm a private investigator. I'm lying here in the gutter watching my internal systems slow down and die one by one, and trying to get this written to a chip so I don't forget.
Memory loss is one of the worst parts of powering down.
I'm a cyborg. Used to be a cop back when being a cop meant something. Before America decided to incorporate. I'm strictly old news now. Nobody's been cybernetically enhanced for the past ten years. The cyberpunk revolution is over, and it was a total flop. And now I try to carve out a niche in a world that's passed me by.
It started with a woman. It always does. Maybe sixteen, physically altered with bird and snake traits. Quetzcoatl with a pout and a missing boyfriend sitting in my office before I got there. She'd gone for as much modification as she could afford, glide-capable wings stretching along her arms. Temporary, of course. She told me that she'd heard I was a good detective. I told her I heard that a lot from people with big problems and small wallets. She told me her boyfriend was missing. A head-kid with a mind full of inverse future shock. A Singularist and a writer. I asked if she had a picture of him, but that was an old-fashioned formality. I already had traces of him from her, local DNA intruders into my sensory field that I could use for a positive ID.
I told her I'd take the case. She offered me a thousand up front. Barely a day's expenses, but I didn't push. She didn't have more. She left the way she'd came, out of the window.
I went for a walk. Filaments running through my chrome hooked me in to the wireless network. I had to download every day just to keep up with the world. There's a storage deck built into my abdomen that holds all the important news and stops me going crazy here on the street. Other chromers lay on the sidewalk, barely able to get enough power to see them through a day at the shelters. I can't look them in the optics.
Head-kids were fans of the latest candy drug, Everymind Beans. Meme-artists carved non-harmful information onto sugar molecules and used them to make jelly beans. Each bean was a different trait, everything from genius to aphasia. They were sold in random packs, each bean a six-hour hit. The big marketing push was the dare: Would you do it? Would you eat one, not knowing if you were getting imagination or necrophilia? Adverts featuring wizards and other tired fantasy tropes unfolded behind my eyes and I broke the search connection.
Six hours later I'm outside a club the pair frequented. Alien insect love songs ping in my audio, on the upper edge of human hearing. Subsonics worked with the music, building weird feelings and making the kids do crazy stuff. I have buffers for that kind of thing. I didn't bother going inside. I stand out too much as it is, no point in tempting fate and getting into another fight. Bull-boys are the newest gang in this area, temped genetics combined with myostatin inhibitors to leave a whole mess of muscle. They could fuck me up good.
The electrolum and trash of the back alley is familiar, calls me back to twenty years ago when it'd be a meeting point for covert ops or just doing the latest drugs before the sergeant found us. A pair of hookers with three extra vaginas and penile tongues give me an appraising look, but they turn away at the flash of metal. All hail the new flesh.
Something trips my sensory field, a familiar molecular sequence. I lean in closer. Sure enough, it's the boyfriend. Or at least, what's left of him. Teeth marks in his arms and legs, chunks of flesh ripped off. I turn off the field and lean in closer, open his jaw. The teeth marks are his own. A deep scan proves it, his stomach's full of his own semi-digested meat. Someone got autocannibalism in his candy, and he didn't live long enough for it to wear off.
I can't keep the field up with my full sense rig unfolded. Too much interference for anything to give useful data. But even so, I should have known better than to turn off my sensorium in a badly lit alleyway while I'm preoccupied. The bull-boy's fist slams into my back, another punch driving me into the wall in front of me. Etherwave sensor vanes break off from their external mounts, the impacts coming too fast for me to retract them. I pull the rest in and activate combat ware as I try to see my attacker.
He's not hard to see. Big even for a bull-boy, corded synthetic muscle augmenting his own. He could probably bounce magnum rounds off his pecs. I try anyway, a three round burst from the popup in my left forearm. If he notices, it doesn't show. He advances, not even breathing heavy, and the next punch fucks me up badly, motor systems crackling and dying as my body twists in ways it really shouldn't. Grenade tubes in my thighs launch smoke bombs as I go down, and before I hit the ground I turn on my field one last time.
So that's how I came to be lying on the floor of an alleyway, watching my systems die as internal repairs sap the few power reserves I have. But I know now who killed the guy and who tried to kill me. All I need to know is why.
Power flow detected.
Internal reserves at 35%
Essential systems online
Autorepair in low-power mode.
My eyes come back online and a woman's leaning over me. Kind face even as she pulls the power spike out of my forearm through my palm way too fast, hurting like nothing else could.
"You look pretty beaten up. Another power brawl?"
"No, it was..." But I don't know what it was. Something's on internal storage but that's non-essential and I don't have enough power to work that and fix myself.
"Something you took, huh?" No accusation there. Slight pity, but concern as well. I must look a wreck, panels dented and sensors snapped.
"No. Look, if I could just get back to my office, I have a power filter there and that'd give me the power to remember."
"Sure. An unregulated filter." Pity in her voice now, she thinks I'm delusional. But then, there are only maybe a thousand such filters in the whole country. Why would a random cyborg on the streets have one?
"Look. I can't remember what's going on without more power. I was doing something very important. I'm a private investigator. And you can stand there and think I'm delusional all you like but you can't stop me leaving and going back to my fucking office."
"Calm down, mister. The building's got a cage. You try leaving, we turn it on and every erg of energy you have is blasted out of you."
"What? You can't do this, this is unlawful imprisonment."
"Not if you have no ID. And not since you became just another part of the great American corporation."
Shit. She's got me over a barrel here. Even if I had ID, the incorporation of the States means we're all mothing more than cells in the body of an effective-human corporate entity. I remember that much.
"Look. I'm sorry. But I know I was doing something important. Run drug tests, software scans, see if I've been doing anything I shouldn't. I just need to remember."
"Well... stay there." She stands up, going for an old backpack-size system scanner. I let her check me out. Subdermal actuators, sensorium field generator, implant weapons, everything. She looks shocked.
"I was a policeman. Back in the time when cyberpunk was cool."
She nods. "You've got police-issue RFID on some of your ware still. Go on. I won't stand in your way."
I leave, and pound the streets towarsd my office as my internals slowly knit together, self-routing cables snaking through damaged areas carrying microscopic repair droids to the worst hit areas. The sight of the old building is a relief. Get there, get power. Then I can review what to do. The door swings open for me and I seal the place. Unregulated filters are very illegal, pulling down way too much power just to keep someone alive who should get uncybered or live at a third of their normal power. The last thing I need are power company shock troops bursting in and doing nasty things to me while I'm out.
I slide the spike through into the port in my arm, down into the forearm, and pass out to the sweet song of electricity flowing through my systems.
Internal reserves at 100%
All systems online
Some external sensory systems
nonfunctioning due to damage
Powered up, I can access my records. I know what's going on now. I crack open a panel in the wall and replace my self-defence gear with real guns. No time for fucking around, I need to be able to kill people who bounce normal bullets like rubber. All the while, I wonder on why, but nothing comes to mind. I cant get the advertising blurb out of my head. Would you do it? And what if you liked what you did... I ramp up agility and reflexes and hit the streets, heading for the same club.
Both of them have been here recently. My field can tell that much, their organic residue is strong. They've been exerting themselves. Makes sense. I head around the back. There they are, interfacing nicely, the bull and the winged snake. I clear my throat.
The bull's the first to react, eyes jerking towards me and narrowing with hate. The directional strobe in my left eye flares, buying me enough time to deploy the railgun sitting in the same arm cavity my pistol was before. A tungsten steel needle doing the best part of five times the speed of sound flies through his eyeball and out the back of his head. He falls without another sound.
"You killed him! I thought you were a detective."
"And I thought you were worried about your boyfriend."
"It didn't wear off. He took one of those damn beans and he just didn't stop staring at other men."
"That was enough to hire someone to program an autocannibalism bean and make him eat himself?"
"You don't know what it's like, being rejected."
"Spare me. But why? Why hire me, why waste money on a PI when he's already dead."
"I had to be sure. And I couldn't be seen to have anything to do with it. I have a reputation to uphold."
"Not any more."
"What are you going to do. Arrest me?"
"There's not been a law in this country since we incorporated. We're just cells of the corporate body. Sometimes, what we need is a white cell to take care of an infection."
"You're not serious."
"This coming from a homophobic it-girl? I'm doing the world a favour." The dart, nothing more than frozen contact poison, leapt from my finger and stung her cheek.