Prologue: The Neon Highway
The syringe leaks a colourless goo into her carotid; the vein bulging and glowing like the jellyfish in Musashi’s bar.
Nanowires slither from her gaunt and bury themselves into her wrist, appearing sentient as they latch onto her ulna and radius, chewing their way into her sticky bone marrow. The goo flows though her meatbag like a vicious torrent of sewage; it should flush the byteseekers attached to her dermis and veins.
Musashi’s bar comprises of hardened sararimen crying at kabuki gals and yaks and sammies sharpening their katanas in the hidden clefts behind the panoramic jellyfish tank. Seedier than Saiyūki’s Szechuan or Kojiro’s delicacies, Musashi’s is the place to go when you need to lay low.
A yak with no eyes stares at her with his ball-less sockets, his irezumi of a baku spirit floats all over the meat of his back, snorting dust clouds and inhaling them back with a gem encrusted trunk. The Gōsuto-Akumu insignia, one of the yak clans you should try avoid. Epikku feiru isn’t handled well, instead of hacking your pinkie they prick out your eyes; though, cortexul implants help with psionic sight nowadays. He grunts as his comrade hands him a small blade with a steel limb prosthetic. They trade comments in broken Nihon-koku, laughing at a limp sarariman singing YOU ARE NUMBER #1 <3 on the karaoke RUR; a Nihon/Engrish song about a Nihon supastar trying to become the number one lover of an Anglo chick with plastic latch-on epicanthic folds. These songs are common, every week some moron whines about trying to either bang some insipid Anglo chick in kabuki costume. The sarariman sings off key and misinterprets some of the Engrish, continuously bowing as the bot monotonously drones incorrect in neon red.
Edo period portraits of daimyo and sammies embellish the plastic walls, presenting a battle of some major importance. The sammies protect the daimyo, shielding him with their ruddy daemon armour as flame lit arrows pierce their hides. They portraits appear ritzy in the distance, but up close you can see that they’re just posters from the local dorra shop. A retro bauble hovers above the kabukis, refracting the pixelated rainbow light of the bar. Red, purple, blue, then green, yellow, violet; rinse and repeat. She squints as blood trickles from the corners of her eyes. The light hurts; she adjusts her shades and pushes them back, briefly punching the bridge of her upturned nose.
Her gut rumbles like the dramatic roar of a sea monster. Sashimi would be nice, but she don’t got enough shells, not even for expired vat tuna. Spent nearly all she’s got on the needle. It hurts. She can feel the goo squish around in her lungs, batt and brain. She bleeds from her nostrils. Flesh weaves hurt less than this shit, but she has to flush her meatbag. Don’t want to be caught.
You always hear horror stories on ‘Hattan’s Highway; a cityscape of boards, LED coated monoliths and glass-paned stores using cochlea drones to advertise their discounts. She’s heard bums on the streets sing ghastly tales of mags stupid enough to be caught. Each dragon has a fetish and from what she hears, their fetishes involve vivisection. No such thing as truth no more, though there’s one thing she’s certain of – once you’re caught, you’re never heard from again.
She don’t bleed in Otherworld. No pain, nothing negative; just the pure ecstasy of meatless freedom. She thinks of it and moans a little while thinking of her brain-sprite flying through the pixelated, neon skies. To some, Otherworld is a drab, isometric world washed with bright highlights. But to her, it’s majestical. She’s trapped in the meat ‘verse now; the natural world of angry baboons and chiselled stallions stroking their swords like a second cock.
Her gaunt flashes, a message from Nelly Knowit. She ignores it. She knows what it’ll say, “told ya so, magick-chick! Told ya never to fuck with the dragon.”
‘Soy sashimi with a side of spider legs? You know, the usual?’ Sabu snorts in his ‘Hattan accent. The African maître d of Musashi’s, Sabu’s often dressed in a China sewn kimono. His greasy mane is cleanly tied into an orb, a couple of carbon chopsticks with yellow LEDs impale his sleek fro.
She shakes her head, a wire dangles from the datajack implant beneath her chin. She coughs up blood upon cherry table and cleans her lips with her vinyl cuff.
‘Can’t bleed here if you don’t buy something. You know, got rules about that. Capisce?’ he snorts again.
‘Ol’ fashion, cleanish or purified?’
‘Ol’ fashion then,’ he snorts once more, ‘that shit’ll kill ya, but you magick people love the feelin’, right?’
He’s right – it’s a thrill. She’s seppuku’d herself countless times in Otherworld with her simulated tantō to feel the strangely erotic euphoria only felt if you illegally mod your sprite. Nothing achievable in the meat ‘verse, it’s an electric orgasm where both Eros and Thanatos bang senselessly.
Another stupid pop song plays, this time in pure Engrish. BEBE LOVER, another insipid song about a Nihon supastar chasing a stupid Anglo Lolita dressed in a bright pink maid’s outfit. She’s heard this one before, a week old song often played upon the mega Makoto monitor in the centre of the highway. Makoto has a thing for the extremely young, up ‘n coming talent. A different sarariman sings, but like his bud, he epikku feirus.
Can’t linger here for too long, they might’ve traced her before the goo had a chance to destroy the seekers. Too dangerous to go back to her hideout. Besides Nelly Knowit, who wouldn’t take her in anyway, there’s her friend José. A Hispanic sammy mag, an odd combination. Met him on a run a couple years ago, banging him shortly thereafter until all feeling left her lips. It’s his eyes that get her wet every time; his rich violet eyes that never leave her brain. She somehow always fantasises about them.
She’s curious about his scars and prosthetic legs, but he don’t talk much about them. Allegedly a vet of some war she’s never heard of during the shitty period of the U.S. She’s too young to remember the shitty period and never learned anything from the rents. He don’t like her for the questions she asks anyway, he likes her for the wires and gizmos bonded to her meat; the wires dangling from her neck and chin and the chips and gaunt moulded to her arms. There’s something magickal about bulky gadgetry, mostly at night away from the highways. You glow when it’s pitch black, an eerie ethereal of all the LED compounds imbedded into your meat. You’re a true mag when there’s no virgin meat left.
Sabu slams a chipped glass of muddy water over her freshly dried blood. He taps her on the back with his thick, sausage-like fingers and rubs them into her shoulder.
‘One-hundred shells, capisce?’ he snorts.
She strokes the frames of her shades and a holographic projection oozes from her lenses. She reorganises the fractalled pixels, her lithe fingers dancing within the neon heat like the drunken sararimen dancing on their sake high. Sent; paid Sabu only fifty shells. He realises only as he walks away, laughing after a huge fuck escapes his fleshy lips.
She should’ve bought the cleanish water, the ol’ fashion kind tastes like a razorblade orgy in her mouth. She takes another swig, only to then cough it up with some fresh blood. Has to get outta here, her head’s about to explode. She fingers her gaunt and sends José a message; ‘@MSHI’S. BOUT TO DIE. COME ‘N GET ME.’ Formal enough. She sends it, along with a pic of her face. Hasn’t seen him in a couple weeks and now he’s going to see how unkempt her deathhawk is. It don’t defy gravity today, low, greasy and has been unwashed for a while now. The bright blue streaks are now a faded, ocean of ripples and curls that limply coil around her modem, an engine-looking chunk of machinery that prevents the brunt of neuralshock.
Been an hour and José don’t respond. The sararimen have either passed out on the nylon carpet, modded to look like the ancient planks of a Shinto temple, or left, still on their sake high. The eyeless yak and his prosthetic buddy have left too, probably on the run to take out the latest Eurotrash capo. The yaks poke, the maff poke back. The yaks poke worse and the maff poke back even worse. That’s all they ever do.
She can’t stay here forever and it’s suicide to sleep in an alley. A mag like her, the NuPunkers would bang her until she bled from every single organic and artificial orifice they could find…then tear all the gizmos from her meat and hock ‘em for a chip of PINK. They could bang her for all she cares, it was her gizmos she was concerned for most. No one touches mag tinkered equipment. It’s an unwritten law.
She’s alone, excluding the warm companionship of Sabu, who’s now attempting to fix the karaoke RUR. It needs a simple fix, a motherboard reroute and spare auxiliary shaft, but Sabu kicks the bot and tears the wires and internal bits out. She cringes.
‘Okay smartass, closing time.’
‘But, I didn’t say a thing.’
‘Don’t have to, I know what you thinking, magick-chick,’ he says while tearing out the bot’s batt; a wirey mass of synth muscle proteins and nanotech. A big no, no, he can’t claim warranty no more. ‘Quittin’ time, I need to sleep.’
‘It’s only twelve! José’s going to come soon.’ She knows he’s not, but maybe Sabu would feel sorry for her
‘No, magick-chick. I know you. Probably on the run or something.’
She can try to battle Sabu and squat in his flat for the night. But he towers over her and would tear out her batt in a second, just like the poor RUR before her. She don’t bite back and leaves Musashi’s just as her ear trickles a clear fluid over the floor. An electric jolt swells through her fingertips as she touches the glass pane, ‘we’re sad to see you leave, come back soon! You’re next saké’s on me!’
Running low on blood after spewing all over the highway. José don’t live too far from Musashi’s, about a half an hour’s trek, right by MOM’s Emporium, the store in the shape of an old woman. Each time you pass it the crone dispenses her cronely wisdom, usually that of: “buy this for your wife”, “your husband will be so pleased”, “I know what you need, satin sheets!”. It’s on the ritzy side of the highway where the Shōgun buy fancy lingerie or fancy plastic furniture.
She vomits some more in a trashcan, regretting it a few seconds later as there’re some decent looking prawn tails buried beneath a dead rat. The vat kind, not that soy bullshit they palm off to the common serf. It stinks real bad, but she don’t care, sifting through all the slimy e-papers, soy packaging and rat carcass; quickly devouring the prawn tail without a moment to think or taste. She don’t miss this eating, when jack-in Otherworld, the cords from her gaunt nourish her with the bare essentials of vitamins and minerals. Gut still in shambles, but she can’t stay here too long.
It’s ten pm, but you couldn’t tell. The sky’s a fluorescent mosaic of neon light with satellites weaving adverts around the cosmic rays of boards and LED-glass monoliths. Always day here. Not good for those who need to lay low.
She don’t feel the liquid’s bite within her body no more, must be all gone. But it can’t be this easy, can it? Dragons aren’t that stupid.
José might be wary of her if she shows up outta the blue. Once you’ve been tagged, there’s never going back. No matter how often you flush your meatbag and no matter how many times you have a China medicine man remove the nodes, they got your meatbag on the system now. The price for trying to pry the golden goblet from the dragon’s hoard. How poetic. Maybe he won’t like her no more. Fuck, she should’ve been smarter; stupid mags don’t last.
People stare. Bad sign. They’d give her up in a second if it meant they’d be on Makoto’s Feed. She can see it right now; “MAGI CAUGHT AFTER PUBLIC SERVICE!”, a few chicks kawaii desuing and a hulking sarariman saying it’s his duty to the Consortium. She don’t want to be on the mega monitor, that thing’s a death sentence.
She shoulders past a few Anglo chicks peace-signing in front of the mirrored glass pane as their Eurotrash boyfriends take hundreds of pics per second with their fancy wraparound specs. The one thing she hates about Otherworld, the billions and billions of pics of these ritzy, whiny kawaii desus. Nihons with cut epicanthic folds, Anglos with faux epicanthic folds, Eurotrash with faux eyes and meat in general. It’s a bloody nightmare.
She sends another quick message to José, ‘WALKING TO YOUR PLACE. LOOK OUT FOR ME.’
The neon cosmos wanes, toning the highway down to the highlight of fluorescent slivers of pink light; bathing the denizens in a wash of rosy. She hears the banter of droods; Irish-Scot pleather clad hippies with elongated ears, borrowing the faery persona from fantasy flicks. ‘For Danu will save you with her healing touch! Heed our song and heal the world! The Consortium has blinded you with Gook lies!’ They hand her a pamphlet, printed on dorra store e-paper. She can’t read the words as they jumble while they buzz through her fingers. All she can hear is, ‘for she watches and yearns for release. Join us brother/sister.’
It looks bad to walk by converts, especially droods. No sect is known to be anything more than a con. There’s no heaven or hell, only the meat and sprite . She crinkles the pamphlet and throws it upon the mound of e-papers.
The Prof’s Wagon’s still there. A rustic body mod stall run by an unnaturally tiny Cambo man. He stays in place for a couple of months at a time then hauls his wagon to some other district. Says he’s been to Texas, but no one believes him. No one’s been to Texas in a long time, not after they cut themselves from the NuU.S.
Name’s a mystery, he don’t even remember himself. Just stands there with his little, rusty RUR limb cane mumbling gibberish to his great, great, great grandson. She helped the Prof one time, he owes her a favour.
The LED lights flicker as she approaches the stall. ‘Welcome, welcome,’ she hears buzzing through her nodes. ‘There’s no such thing as too many mods! If there’s an empty pound of flesh, I be the one to impregnate it!’
The Prof sleeps on a plastic stool, inhaling his long, wispy moustache with each tiny snore. His great, great, great grandson, a catfish-faced mix of Anglo and Cambo, plays on an older, bulkier tab.
He multitasks playing on his tab with his right hand and staring at her, his left hand struggling to keep his sleepy head erect. ‘Do I know you?’
‘No, but I know your-’
‘So I don’t know you. Don’t look like you need another mod, you a freak show already.’
So, not the right man to bargain with. His tab vibrates, but he don’t notices.
‘Listen, your great, great, great grandfather owes me-’
‘He don’t owe you a thing whe-’
She grapples the scruff of his denim vest. ‘Listen you little punk, I’ve had a shit night. Now you either wake up great, great, great grandpappy over there or I’ll rip your fucking little throat out. Got it?’
A cackle in the corner. ‘I remember you magick-chick.’
She lets go of his great, great, great grandson and laughs herself. ‘Was it his crying that woke you, Prof? You should teach the boy a little manners, especially when serving a lady.’
The Prof cackles again. ‘You a lady? I can’t tell with all that shit,’ he says, wiping his eyes with an elegant kerchief of blue silk and beads. ‘What you want.’
‘You owe me a favour, remember?’
The Prof speaks to his son in broken Khmer. She don’t understand much languages, just a bit of Nihon, Canto and good ol’ English. It’s much easier to speak Engrish, but English feels a lot smoother. The great, great, great grandson disappears beneath the counter for a second, coming back for air with a scroll of e-paper. The Prof puts on his specs and reads using his laser finger to follow. ‘Ah, yes. You here, magick-chick. That long time ago, what you want now?’
The Prof smiles. To the right customer he sells anything; synth to vat grown organs, black market weapons, ICE (if your ol’ fashioned), MYTH protocols nabbed directly from URON dungeons, absolutely anything you can imagine.
‘I need EMP pulse ray, one that don’t need a charge after a couple shots.’
He strokes his moustache, curling it with his pinkie. ‘That’s a tall order. Hard to find an EMP ray, first. Second, it might not work too well with the current circuitry gen. You using this for hacks?’
She shakes her head. There’s only one thing she can be using this for; the Prof and his great, great, great grandson gawk, the Prof cackling a few moments later.
‘You hunting RURs now, magick-chick?’
She don’t answer.
‘Oh…oh dear. Well, I might have-’ he trails off in Khmer.
The great, great, great grandson disappears again, this time for a little while longer. Her sandaled feet tap the floor, can’t stay here too long. Can’t stay anywhere too long. A fugitive, how bloody typical.
The great, great, great grandson arises once more, this time with a small laser, covered with rust and grime. They seem to prefer older models here. They exchange a few words in Khmer again, the great, great, great grandson handing her the laser.
‘This old, but should work,’ says the Prof, ‘I don’t guarantee it.’
She conceals the laser in a hidden pocket in her vinyl jacket. The Prof slides a chip into her hand before she leaves. ‘A little something if you lucky. Good-luck, magick-chick.’
She looks to see a byte of PINK.
Calm. Collected. She’s got her EMP laser and no matter how old it may be, it could work…like her flush. What’s she thinking, it’s hopeless! You can’t outrun a dragon. It’s like what Nelly Knowit always says, ‘you fuck with the dragon, he fuck you right back.’ They don’t forget, no matter how long you outrun them.
She makes it by the ritzy side. Everything’s closed. The sound of her plastic sandals hitting her heels echoes against the glass panes. She tries to walk slower, but no luck. There’re some shadowy figures veiled in shadow by the alleyways, but they only appear to be NuPunkers banging against the trashcans.
It’s nearly three am, why hasn’t José replied. Maybe he heard about her little escapade. She thought it was a solid hex. Everything was ready. Mods, checked out. Protocols, aced. Even the bulky icebreaker was fine. But she didn’t anticipate the RUR countermeasure. Faster hackers. Smarter hackers. Now she knows why you don’t screw with- she’s being followed.
The hairs on her neck prick. Her shades can’t find any heat sigs or electric pulses. Nothing. No one in front, behind, or anywhere. Her hands tremble, she places her hand on the grip, walking slowly like a suspicious criminal. Is that what she is now?
A noise, but there’s still no one. She unsheathes her laser and runs. Has to get away, can’t stay here no more. A sudden woosh, the neon sky ripples and a purple chopper with Chiyo tatt’d over the side brrrrs its way towards her. It spews a couple specks, the specks flipping and turning until they land. RURs. She knew it, they were chasing her all this time.
She slips into an alley only to be caged by a chain-link fence. Slides off her sandals and tries to climb it, however one of her wires is caught. Is this how it ends?
‘Caretta, Aubrey, please remain calm,’ a Nihon-looking RURs says. Scary, the latest models look so much like real people now.
She can’t pry herself loose. She continues to yank and pull, but it’s useless. She aims the laser, shooting and missing the RUR completely.
‘Caretta, Aubrey, please be still. You will be fine,’ the other RUR says, this one looking Anglo.
The Anglo RUR gently places his hand over her shoulder and zaps her until she keels over, the rogue wire coming loose as she falls in the herculean arms of the Nihon-looking RUR.
She can’t keep her eyes open for much longer. They speak, but she can only make out “Ms Moto” and “keep safe”.
One: Tea Time @Chiyo LTD.
It’s cold. She can only see the black abyss in which has swallowed her whole. Is this a dream? She can’t move her limbs or open her mouth. Her meat hurts, feeling as if the flesh had been torn right off her bones. A trickle of snot trails a glossy path down her cheek, by an open wound bleeding pus and a silver, coppery liquid.
She tries even harder to lift her arms and wiggle her bare toes, but no luck. She’s completely paralysed, will she become one of those urban myths now? She remembers hearing about a friend of a friend of Nelly Knowit’s who spent a solid six months whizzing Ayodha’s mainframe in his mama’s basement. Ate nothing but soy fries and bugbites, drinking only three Bolt X’s a day as he carved a path through their upgraded RAMA-fied ICE walls; the countermeasure in which the seventh avatar of Vishnu aims his magickal bow and neuralshocks trespassers. But he got through avoiding the avatar’s gaze with a self-cloaking mod and it worked…for a short while. He was tagged by a sentry and captured. According to Nelly Knowit, his mama’s house was burned to the ground. Burned completely down.
Bright amaranthine lights banish the darkness, turning the room into a glass of grape soda. Her arms and legs are tied down using strange carbon cables coated in a smooth film of plastic goop. It’s twisty and bendy, but strong and tight. Her mouth’s also concealed by a layer.
‘Can you hear my voice, Caretta, Aubrey?’ a voice buzzes within her nodes. She’ll never forget that awkward human speech, it’s the voice of the Nihon-looking RUR. It sounds like a smooth dose of PINK injected right into your sternum, something soothing but also something very wrong.
She tries to move again, but she’s got only enough energy to mumble through the goop.
‘Think, Caretta, Aubrey. I can read your mind.’
Read her mind? Is this guy-
‘I am using the term “read your mind” in the pejorative sense. It is more sophisticated than that, but alas, you will not be able to understand the intricate delicacies of cerebral psionics.’
‘I am sorry, I do not enjoy listening to profanity. I understand that it is commonly accepted in jest amid your circles, but please limit your use. I am able to lightly neuralshock you if you are unable to comply.’
Her mind’s in tatters. Unable to string a proper sentence together, the words where the hell am I sound garbled and lost amidst the continuous humming within her brain.
‘Somewhere safe. Do not worry, Caretta, Aubrey, it is not my intention that I keep you for myself. Like most of the ancient indigenous races, I do not have a desire of ownership. The concept of possession is trivial to a mechanical organism like myself.’ His voice weaves around her remaining brain cells, the chords softly whining along with the continuous humming. ‘It is wonderful that you have remained so diligent throughout this month of experimentation. Ms Moto has been concerned for your safety. I had to constantly reassure her that everything was under control.’
‘A month?’ she thinks.
‘Yes, a month. But do not worry, it is done. We will return all your modifications shortly. With a few alterations of course. Were you aware that most of your organic components have been wasting away due to malnutrition and the continuous jacking-in and out of Otherworld, Caretta, Aubrey?’
No shit, she’s a mag. Her meatbag is nothing special. It’s just a canvas for all of her mods, a meaty canvas of wires, nodes and gizmos.
‘Incorrect, the meatbag, as you refer to it, is something quite special. For you see, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them”.’
How droll, a philosophically religious RUR. She tries to wriggle once more, but the goopy wires clench tighter, brusing her wrists.
‘Please refrain from moving too hastily. Your restraints are brutish, but they serve their purpose. In any case, we have wasted more than enough time. I have been tasked to retrieve you from your containment cell. However, you appear to be quite exhausted, so I will give you some time to-’
She wriggles some more, even as the wires cut into her wrists, blood dripping like a leaky faucet. She tries to yell through her mouthpiece, but her screams are muffled. Let me outta here, she thinks, attempting to make her inside voice sound like a ferocious snarl. But what do RURs care, do they even get afraid?
‘Well, if you insist. But I cannot take you before Ms Moto appearing dishevelled.’
Her meat is so weak that she can barely make it to the showers unaided. Has it really been a month? Nelly Knowit, José…everyone’s probably forgotten about her. That’s how it is in the mag biz, no one keeps you close. Not for the emotional benefit, but so you don’t spill your guts to competitors or dragons.
Two helmed RURs grapple and drag her through several purpley hallways. Precious articles of RUR antiquity line the purple walls; various skulls, Neanderthal to the commonplace RUR form, limbs, super enhanced LED eyes shining their dull yet ominous greens, blues, yellows and reds. Synth organs pump and squirm, batts inflating and deflating, while sections of guts and entrails, livers and brains light up with small golden diodes. Chiyo began small and was primarily in the biz of synth organ transplants for ritzy folk. But synth organs are child’s play, toying with artificial intelligence was always Rin Moto’s passion. Everyone knows Rin Moto, mother of artifice and the inorganic soul. That moniker was originally intended maliciously, but it don’t bother Ms Moto. She uses it as her primary title. Atop her imperial purple spire, she’s said to tinker endlessly on devices and firmware updates, a kindly mother gifting her chrome children Eden’s fruit of knowledge. Not bad for an outdated sci-fi writer.
The RUR’s voice trails her like a stink permanently attached to her asshole. Barely audible, her eyes sink into her skull; she drifts in and out of dream as she’s dragged by her captors.
She calls out to José, but he don’t answer. He ignores her, fascinated in something else. His caramel skin glows molten, a bestial, savage god. His shinin’ legs whine as he walks farther and farther away. She calls out again, but the neon sunlight’s too bright. He defracs in the distance without even glancing back. How could he leave her here?
‘Caretta, Aubrey, please wake up.’
Caretta, Aubrey. Never thought she’d hear that name again. Sorta like the pope, you give up your meat name when you become a mag. She hates the name of her meatbag – Yui’s the name of her sprite – her true name.
‘Caretta,’ a brief pause, ‘Yui. Please wake up.’
A small neuralshock kicks her nodes, bashing them against her skull like a savage king hit thrown by a boxing bot, bubbling whatever’s left in her gut. Yui spews over her RUR captors; they don’t move in the slightest.
‘Do not worry, you will not always vomit. It does feel better after your medulla oblongata integrates the implant.’
She scrubs her meatbag with lavender soap, cleansing the grime and muck that has built up over a month and then some. She has layers of the shit coating her, as well as bloodstains and dried pus around her now scabby sores. She wonders why they haven’t bothered to clean her or shave her legs. Even the shaven part of her sculpt was starting to bud little black sprouts, in fact, the blue dye seems to have washed out completely. Needs to re-dye it again, black hair is so last millennium.
She can’t remember her last shower, mag’s usually avoid them considering it interferes with their instruments. Yui’s used to cleaning herself with the moist towelettes she nabs from the Chicken Shack, a fast-food joint that don’t actually serve real chicken, just their processed “special” meat containing spiders and cockroaches, flavoured and processed some more to appear and taste like chicken. Their motto – “everything tastes like chicken!”.
As she scrubs her chest, she realises that they have taken everything. Every little gizmo grafted onto her meaty canvas is gone; no wires are buried within her arms or neck no more, no chips or datajacks; only the modem remains. They haven’t bothered using dermis salve either, her meatbag looking like a piece of whittled wood, hacked, hewn, and surgically sewn back together. She’s not herself no more. She’s as weak as a new-born bub.
Fresh and back to her old freckled, ivory tint. Perhaps showers aren’t so bad when you’re using purified water.
The clothes provided in the adjoining room are a joke. A silken purple shirt, a purple tie, mauve hairclips made of some flimsy, shitty piece of plastic, a pleather skirt, still purple, and purple PVC shoes. She wonders what happened to her previous getup. They were raggy and torn, but longed for her vinyl jacket. José gifts to her when she joined Nelly Knowit’s coven.
‘Yui. Ms Moto is waiting. I will escort you shortly.’
And he meant shortly as it took only a second for him to appear before her. A tall and bulky specimen, his suit is the only non-purple thing she’s seen in hours. The RUR now wears wraparound specs, tinted bright green. His hair bugs her, a stupid little schoolboy’s bowl cut, neatly trimmed to appear slightly more natural. That don’t help, he’s still a creepy heap of bolts and wires.
Chiyo, if that’s where she really is, is a labyrinth of hidden pathways, doors plastered with caution signs (in both Engrish and Nihon) and random scientists wandering to and fro with creepy spiral shaped instruments. She’s figured that she’s in the hidden, top secret, albeit deep underground, laboratory. They were always deep, deep underground, conveniently positioned by the holding cells.
They pass a lab the size of a theatre with scientists working on what appears to be a RUR dissection. Scientists with microscopic lenses hack the RUR’s chests with a laserknives, while others with equally stupid-looking goggles peer into the cavity. ‘Now,’ a goggled lecturer distinguishes himself, ‘RURs have both organic and synthetic components. Ms Moto’s initial design was to be a creature of pure mechanical impulse. A fuel-driven beast that defied the natural order of living. A golem of the Jewish Kabbalah, it was destined to fail. How can an ordinary human defy the natural laws of Gaia? How can we, you ask? You have to synthesise her. We use the Gaia precept, Darwinism 2.0.’ The scientist speaks loudly, but her chaperone seems to have little patience and continues to drag her along. She wishes to stay and listen to more of the scientific banter, but it was her curiosity that got her into this mess to begin with.
More grisly trophies of fragmented RURs conceal the walls; ribcages, hands and dissected finger bones flail as if they had freshly been harvested. Chiyo’s either a macabre chamber of horrors, or an eccentric lab of highbrow whizzes, or both. Yui wonders how her chaperone must feel after witnessing such carnage. If they were organic, she knew she’d puke, no question about it.
‘They are nothing more relics, Yui. They are all obsolete fragments of my predecessors. Even if I were to be organic, such as yourself, it would be like vomiting after observing the skeletal remains of the Neolithic peoples,’ he says coldly, whilst avoiding eye contact with her.
The human condition: being able to anthropomorphise any little thing, whether it be an action figurine to the monsters of literature. Yui forgets that nothing’s truly human no more.
A solid slab of metallic purple pewter blocks their pathway, that is until her chaperone waves his hands and types a code into the holographic interface. It snapshots his face and the slab disintegrates, pixel by pixel, appearing as if they were jacked-into Otherworld.
‘We are about to proceed through the entry of Chiyo headquarters. Keep your head down, do no interact with anyone and follow me. We are told that our quarters are immense at best.’
Her chaperone wasn’t kidding either, the Chiyo headquarters are so huge that Yui could swear she had just entered a whole different state. It felt as if the whole building was dabbed in a coating of liquid chrome and brandished with holograms, adverts and even more ornate RUR pieces, specifically the colossal monument in the middle of the space. More than ten stories tall, the meatless statue of blunt alloys and steel clasps and hinges stands soaring above the diminutive insects, a monument of past configuration in the position of a thinking RUR. Its ruby eyes bathe the corporation in the blazing light of a looming spectre.
A small group of civilians, huddle around a lifelike hologram of a purpleclad suit. Her chaperone might be able to read her mind, but he can’t control her, so she slinks away and becomes one with the huddled mass.
‘Chiyo LTD.,’ the hologram speaks, ‘a brand designed by Rin Moto, the mother of artifice and the inorganic soul. A little more than thirty years ago, the first RUR was designed – the proto-Alulim 00,’ the hologram waves her pixelated hand over the colossal monument. The civilians’ oooh and gasp, but not Yui as her chaperone places his hand over her shoulder.
‘Don’t start,’ she pre-empts her chaperone. ‘It ain’t real, is it?’
‘It was at one point,’ he pauses briefly, ‘before us. The project took fifteen years to design and another fifteen to craft. The proto-Alulim model was a success. And my Adam.’
Again with the hokey religious shit. ‘Then why don’t we have gigantic RURs all over the place?’
He stares at her with his bug-like specs. ‘Clearly a bit intimidating, no?’
All Yui could think of while sitting across the dainty, diminutive Ms Moto was of Nelly Knowit whispering in her ear, “no one’s been in the dragon’s lair and survived”.
Ms Moto resembles one of those five shell kimono dolls kids hassle their rents for. She’s wedged within the womb of her ABEL-class suit, a gunmetal (surprisingly not purple) steel frame with artificial and extremely bulky limbs that’s able to ferry her around virtually anywhere she desires. It’s based upon the battle suits worn during the Nihon-koku civil war, only this one has a Motonian spin; its limbs appearing like the meatless bits and pieces both Yui and her chaperone passed along their path. The lair itself isn’t as ritzy as the teleflick made out. Yui’s only watched parts of it, but she remembers bits and pieces of Ms Moto’s sad, sad life of poverty in NuSekigahara. Her family was killed during the civil war and she led most of her life as a failed sci-fi writer. She was inspired primarily by robotics and artificial intelligence, further enhancing her knowledge with biochemistry, engineering and bioethics. The teleflick portrayed her office then as something akin to Einsteinian genius; papers flowing everything, a torrential flooding of ink scrawled over e-paper whilst designing the proto-Alulim 00. Her current office is nothing of the sort, instead resembling a room you’d find in your grandma’s flat with the odd assortment of RUR skulls jammed in the walls like pinned butterflies.
‘Thank you, Gorou. I see she’s unharmed, just as you promised,’ she speaks very motherly as she drops two sugar blocks into her china bone teacup; elegantly streaked with enamelled silvered, glittery dragons along the side, breathing golden flames of precious amber and jasper. ‘Some tea, perchance Miss Caretta?’
‘Uh, no. And it’s Yui.’
Ms Moto taps on her suit and a small vial of violet liquid is injected into her teacup. ‘My beeta vitamin supplements, I want to retain my womanly composure! Aha!’ she eerily cackles. Her eyes are completely sealed tight, Yui’s surprised she’s able to do everything without sight.
‘Ocular modifications, Yui. Ms Moto developed cataracts several years ago and to her dismay, she realised that cataracts were still common, even in a technologically advanced society such as Nihon-koku and the NuU.S. Ms Moto has named the modification in jest – Cyclops VIZ. She is able to see perfectly and even has access to ultraviolet rays, thermal and x-ray vision. However, it has yet to go on the market due to-’
‘Mak Specs,’ Ms Moto interrupts with a caw, ‘Makoto, best PR in the whole goddamn world! Aha! You’d think people want to switch eyeballs as opposed to wearing goofy specs nowadays. Hard to sway the minds of the sheeple. Aha!
‘But we’ve spoken far too long, I have other appointments to make, so I’m going to keep it short, Miss Caretta.’
Nelly Knowit’s voice swims in her head, “never listen to the dragon, never trust the dragon, don’t you dare even look at the dragon!”. Yui attempts to block the voice of her China friend.
‘We want you,’ Ms Moto continues, ‘to join the warm and outgoing family of Chiyo LTD. If you believe all the crap we advertise on screen. Aha!’
Part of the team? A corporate shill? This was going all too fast, perhaps it would’ve been easier to die in captivity. ‘Don’t you know what I did? I cast a hex on your hub and almost infected it with worms. Why do you want me?’
Ms Moto laughs, ‘and that was the finest job application I had ever received! I want you, Miss-’
‘It is Yui,’ her chaperone, Gorou interrupts. ‘She prefers to go by her moniker of Yui, Ms Moto.’
‘Yui? Aha! Fine. It doesn’t matter. I need a magi. We’ll relocate you as soon as possible. Gorou will lead you to your apartment where you will be kept under guard with until further notice. Understood?’
The words enter and escape Yui’s weary brain. She’s unable to utter a single word, until a few moments later when she asks about her mods and gizmos.
‘Everything in their own time,’ Ms Moto responds, sharply. ‘But for now, Gorou will take you out for lunch. Krill on the menu today, Gorou?’ He nods. ‘And one more thing before you leave,’ she says, opening her eyes, revealing bright spherical orbs of ruby and granite. ‘Don’t think of doing anything stupid. We’re watching you.’