Everyone In Silico
by Jim Munroe
When Paul sat down on the bench, the young man moved over a bit without looking at him. His gaze was fixed on something in the sky.
Paul crossed his arms and looked down the tracks.
The young man made a quiet noise. Paul looked at him, and then followed the young man’s eyes up. All Paul saw were the gleaming buildings of Frisco’s business district, several stretching higher than the eye could register.
“Yeah, they’ve built them big here,” Paul said. “They’re not just scraping the sky – they go up forever.”
The young man looked at him for the first time. Paul’s face was an indistinct blur of features, his suit fashionably cut. “Oh… ” the young man said, looking up again. “No, I was watching the ad.” He pointed at the empty sky.
Paul turned the dial on his watch, and the blue sky turned into a giant man running through a forest with a six-pack of Pepsi strapped to his head. The buildings obscured some of the ad. The man stopped, pulled off a can, and opened it. “Ah, yes,” Paul said. He noticed movement to his left – a giant panda with a fedora was parachuting to the ground. Paul recognized the panda as the mascot for an insurance company. He turned the knob on his watch and both waving panda and Pepsi ad disappeared. The young man was looking at him.
“So you guys still wear the scramblefaces, even here,” the young man said.
Paul shrugged. “You get used to it. Same as the ties.”
The young man looked at his own tie. “Yeah. I never thought I’d get used to it,” he said, twisting it around like a noose. “But you do.”
Paul laughed, looked down the tracks. Far off in the distance there was a trolley car almost too tiny to see.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” the young man said.
Paul looked back, his face a flurry of faces, a cipher.
“Uh, it’s none of my business,” said the young man. “But… ” he pointed to Paul’s watch. “If you’re platinum, why are you taking the trolley car?”
“Oh,” Paul laughed. “I just enjoy it. Clears my head. Gives me time to think.”
“I see,” the young man said, the blank look on his face clearly communicating that he didn’t.
Paul started to look back at the approaching trolley car.
“I’m actually silver,” blurted the young man.
Paul looked back at the young man, who was smoothing his hair back.
“Lot of people assume I’m bronze, because I take the trolley car. But it’s just that I can’t port. There’s a technical glitch.”
“Really?” Paul said. “That’s too bad.” He got up. The young man jumped up too.
“Yeah, check this out. I’m going to try to port home,” the young man said. “Watch.”
The young man turned into a black silhouette of himself. Around the edges of the silhouette, light and image bent inwards.
“Wow,” said Paul, stepping away. “That looks bad.”
The young man returned, his face agitated. “I know. It only happens when I try to port, though. Otherwise, I’m fine. They say it should clear up soon.”
The trolley car stopped, and the doors opened.
It was never good to work on an empty stomach, but Nicky had procrastinated to the point where there was no other choice.
At least I’m just hungry, not hungry and wet, Nicky thought as she wandered down Commercial Drive, welcoming the sun on her face like a long-lost friend. The rainy season was over: Vancouver had finally shucked off winter’s grey cloak and the strip of stores and restaurants seemed cleaner, newer, reflecting Nicky’s small smile back at her.
“Nicholas!” said someone coming out of the Safeway.
“Hey, JK,” Nicky said, turning. “Little shopping?”
JK lifted his bulging bags as he backed away. “Lotta shopping. Gotta go. Like the new cut. Looks like an octopus is sitting on your head.”
Nicky smiled and shook her thin ponytails. “Why thanks, Joseph Kindertoy.” She tried not to stare at his bags as she waved goodbye.
In the first Starbucks she saw she noticed some kids she knew, so she waved and kept on going. The Starbucks a block down looked clear, however, so she held her watch on the rusty plate until the door buzz-clicked.
Breathing a silent relieved breath – she hadn’t been positive she had enough for a coffee – she threw her stuff at a table near the window and went up to the counter. As the machine filled her cup, she watched the people bustling by. Spring was all over their faces, as obvious and gleeful as strawberry jam.
Nicky put sugar and two Milkbuds into her coffee and watched the door. Mostly tourists, since the kids from the Drive favoured the outlet she had passed by. The steam from her cup curled around and coalesced briefly into the Starbucks logo, then dissipated.
An older masked couple came in and tentatively looked around the café. Nicky rifled through her watch for something to read. She found an article on using EasyCut for amphibious splicing and got her watch to project it on the table instead of her retina. After a minute, she checked the couple out over the rim of her coffee cup. They were at the counter, waiting for a couple of boys to finish filling their soup-tureen mugs. They were as noisy as their clothes.
The boys finally touched their watches to the payplate, bouncing them off it in a perfunctory way.
“Next time, ask him where’s his body at!” the kid said on his way out the door, and his red-capped friend exploded in a honk-laugh that made the masked man step back briefly, place a hand to secure his mask, then square his shoulders and pretend he was rubbing his face.
Nicky strained to hear what the man was saying to the woman in his quiet voice, noticed that he touched his bare fingers to the payplate. Nicky smiled inside. Loaded. Only the utterly destitute and the fabulously wealthy did without watches.
After casually pressing a black pellet onto the surface of the table next to her, Nicky leaned away from it and absorbed herself in her article. The woman stood for a second with the classic lattes, holding them well away from her white smock, and surveyed the room before nodding the man towards the table next to Nicky. Good, Nicky thought, tapping a protein DNA graphic in her article and pretending to watch it unravel.
There was a movement from her backpack, and Nicky’s heart rate suddenly spiked. Moving her legs slowly, she placed one of her feet on the opening of the bag, then the other one. She could feel pushing against the side of her shoe. Settle down, you little shit, Nicky thought, you’re not the only one who’s hungry. She nervously glanced at the couple as they draped their coats over their chairs, but they seemed comfortable. The man even took off his mask despite the woman’s disapproving clucking. He had a square jaw and full lips, which he pressed against her ivory fingers. She had had her nails coated in mirror, and he pretended to stare at himself in them. She hit him and giggled.
Nicky, not looking up, lifted her foot. For a second, nothing, and then, just as she was considering kicking the bag, a brown blur. It had crawled up the man’s leg and launched itself onto their table before the couple registered what was happening.
Luckily the woman’s mask muffled her scream, because even then it bored into Nicky’s ears. Nicky snatched the brown animal to her chest and surreptitiously slipped a black pellet into its mouth. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t know how it got out, my bag was closed… ”
The man’s mask was back on his face, and a halo was starting to generate around the two of them. Nicky stroked the head of the tiny pug-faced little bulldog with a single finger and murmured reassurances to it. The animal, however, was fully pacified by the pellet and stared at the couple with honey-liquid eyes.
“Oh, what a beautiful little… creature,” the woman said, holding out her hand. “Turn off that silly thing, Alex,” she said.
The halo disappeared. “Sorry,” Alex said, to both Nicky and the woman. “It’s just… ”
Nicky looked down, kept petting the bulldog.
“It’s just nothing. He’s paranoid,” the woman said, reluctantly taking her eyes off the bulldog to look at Nicky. “He’s been watching the news too much. I apologize for his rudeness.” She looked back at the bulldog. “Can I… ”
Nicky glanced at her. Go on, beg.
“May I… hold him?” she said.
“Her,” Nicky stated firmly, as if she cared.
The woman leaned back, a little beaten. Nicky noticed the lines around her eyes and worried she’d pushed too hard.
“May I hold… her?” she said, finally. Nicky paused for effect, looked down at the little critter, and then slowly extended her hands.
“Oh… oh, she’s a frisky… oh!” the woman said, her exclamations echoing in her mask. The little bulldog was trying to climb out of her hand and up her smock, its little paws gripping the red cross design printed there.
“Heh heh, careful Simone,” said Alex, his eyes watching Simone’s rapturous face as much as the little dog. Nicky noted the emotions washing over his face and thought, not for the first time, that some couples might as well have childless stamped on their foreheads.
The dog was gnawing on her finger, and Simone was delighted by this. “Oh, Alex, look. It thinks my finger is a bone.”
“Heh heh,” Alex responded, looking at Nicky with an assessing eye. At this, Nicky held out her hand for the dog, and Simone reluctantly returned it. “So warm… ”
“Where’d you get it?” Alex said, trying to sound conversational, taking a sip of his coffee.
“I made her,” Nicky said.
“With what?” Alex said dubiously.
“You know those do-it-yourself kits?” Nicky said.
Simone nodded. “I had one of those when I was a kid. Mine didn’t work… ”
“They never did,” Alex said. “They always turned out wrong… messes.”
“Yeah,” Nicky agreed. “She was my fourth try. I bonsaied her. It took the better part of a year. Even then, it was kind of a fluke. That’s her name, actually – Fluky.”
“Fluky, oh, that’s cute,” Simone murmured. She looked at Alex.
Nicky let the dog chew on her finger, trying not to lose her nerve. She thought about JK’s bulging grocery bags and forced herself to smile. “Yeah… I’ve seen a bonsaied tiger go for ten thousand, and it wasn’t nearly as unique. It just looked like a cat.”
“Ten thousand dollars, huh?” Alex said, almost to himself. He glanced at Simone. “I couldn’t see paying more than five… ”
Nicky frowned outwardly, while a joyous melody of cash registers ca-ching!-ed in her head.
By the time she got back to her place, the sun was dropping behind the mountains. In the dim light, she could still make out that her front door had been flashed – Can You Afford Not To Upgrade? Go For Self! – but Nicky ignored the giant block letters and let herself in. She had to swipe her watch twice before it snicked open. Cheap piece of shit.
She went into the kitchen and put away her groceries, stuffing the empty bags into a space between the counter and the wall, and remembered she had muted her watch when she went into Starbucks. She checked her messages. One was from her mom, inducing the familiar twinge of mom-guilt. The rest was spam that her filters didn’t catch, one of them advertising the next generation of spam filters.
She stopped for a second and debated whether or not she should call her mom back now. She decided she didn’t want it hanging over her head when she was in the lab and knew that the longer she waited the greater the chance her mom would go snooping around. She’d know she was home. She’d know Nicky got the message. She kept meaning to disable her mom’s ability to track her watch’s position, but she knew that would mean a shitstorm of drama. If she needed to be untraceable, she could always take it off and leave it at home, as high school a manoeuvre as that was.
She stood in her kitchen, paralyzed by indecision. She looked at the groceries, unappealing since she had eaten almost a whole packet of Sandwich Fixin’s on the way home. She watched a fly loop around and land on her garbage lid. She checked it – three-quarters full. Well, if it’s attracting flies I better get rid of it…
She tied it up and lifted it out of the can, watching for a second to see if there were any drippings. As she left her house she realized that the depot closed in 15 minutes, so she picked up her pace, walking the plank to the sidewalk and step-swinging the bag. The setting sun stretched her shadow out, making her look like a lurching zombie coming out to feed.
She admired a grand old house done up in canary yellow. It was similar to her own – at least a hundred years old, a walkway stretching out to the sidewalk to compensate for the fact that it was built on a slope. Nicky loved the style; it made her feel like she was living aboard a pirate ship. Too bad the False Creek flood hadn’t happened here, Nicky thought sacrilegiously, I’m sure these things are seaworthy.
She got to the depot and went right up to the scale and plopped the bag down on the belt. It came to $8.343, so she held her watch up to the payplate ’til it dinged and the belt started up.
“Mmm, thanks!” The voice echoed in the empty depot as the stained belt moved the bag towards its black maw. She headed for the door, happy to leave the stinky and somehow creepy place. The recorded voice sounded hungrier than it had when there were even a few people lined up in there. She waited unconsciously for the “That was delicious!” recording to play as she pushed the door open.
Instead she got, “Pee-yoo! Don’t you wish you could have just said, Empty Garbage?” followed Nicky out on to the street. The “Go for Self!” tagline was cut off by the closing door.
She smelled her hands (fine) and glanced back at the green garbage can icon glowing in the half-light. As she headed home through the empty streets, she felt a little lonely. Since she had moved here, most of the kids her age who hadn’t left Vancouver had moved to apartments around Commercial Drive. But Nicky felt that moving to the Drive, still busy with people, would be kind of living in denial. Plus, there was no way she could afford as much space there.
She heard squeaking when she got in and remembered she hadn’t fed the flukes. Nicky walked into her living room and looked in the fluke cage. Two of them were sleeping, but the other one was doing his best to wake them up.
“How-are-you-my-little-meal-tickets?” Nicky said in her best imitation of Simone’s baby-voice, reaching into the bag of Critter Kibble. She fed the one that was running around, panting with his big eyes glazed over, and the other two blinked awake. “Oh yeah, now you’re awake. Where were you when I was taking in the groceries?” The flukes looked at her and started to whine.
She chucked the other two pellets in the cage and rolled up the food bag. Checking the time, she decided to get something done before JK arrived, so she headed up to the third floor.
She caught a glimpse of her new haircut in a mirror. Do I look like an idiot with this hair? she wondered. She had had a shoulder-length ragged cut for ages, and she needed a change – but she half suspected she’d done it to dramatically mark the end of her relationship. Kathy would have hated it, she thought giddily.
On the top floor stairwell, she stepped up on the wooden chair, pushed open the hatch and pulled down the well-oiled ladder that led up to her laboratory.
The lights came on gradually as she stamped down the hatch. She looked up with some regret at the covered skylight and window, even though it would have been pitch black outside by now. She remembered being excited by the skylight when she had first found the house, figuring it was perfect for a bedroom. But Kathy complained of having to climb down in the middle of the night to go to the washroom – it was a pain, but still, it would have been so cool to wake up to the sun – and so the lab ended up here instead. When Kathy ended up moving to Frisco, Nicky couldn’t be bothered moving all the lab equipment out. What had started out as a small operation with an EasyBake and a shaky table had expanded into quite a bit of stuff.
Wedged against the slanted roof was a long silver counter with tons of beakers and vials and other antiques that Nicky had a soft spot for. Her computer setup was also outdated, but stable – like the rest of the equipment, she had scooped it up when the genetics department was phased out.
She called up her active in silico experiments – two had been birthed alive. One was a three-headed fluke she had called Cerberus, and the other had a single eye in the middle of its forehead. She focused in on the Cyclops fluke first, noting with satisfaction that it was blinking normally – the last version had been birthed with a messed-up eyelid. She called up the Cerberus fluke. It wasn’t doing as well, only one of the three heads breathing normally.
She zoomed in on the organs and got the computer to diagnose. The heart glowed red, 125% the normal rate. The lungs were within normal parameters this time, although still a little off. Nicky sighed. Maybe three heads aren’t better than one…
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/1.0/
Jim Munroe is a Canadian science fiction author, who publishes his works independently under the imprint No Media Kings. Munroe was managing editor at the magazine Adbusters in the 1990s, before publishing his debut novel Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask in 1998. The novel was put out by a major publishing company, and Munroe so disliked the experience that he launched No Media Kings as a venue for publishing and promoting his own works independently, and a guide to self-publishing for other prospective writers. He has recently come under criticism from some fans for the fact that much of his work is available for sale on walmart.com. As he publishes his own work, Munroe is directly responsible for the availability of his works through that venue. In 2000, Munroe released Angry Young Spaceman through No Media Kings. He followed up with Everyone in Silico in 2002, which was promoted partly by Munroe’s attempt to invoice corporations mentioned in the novel for product placement. An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil, a novel written in the form of blog entries, followed in 2004. Munroe is the founder of The Perpetual Motion Roadshow, a North American indie touring circuit for writers, performers and musicians. Source: Wikipedia
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