“Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!”
— Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Waiting now… waiting. 5:30, 5:29, 5:28, the readout blinked. Not long. Breve sat watching the ocean, the slick wetsuited surfers, and the waves. Sets, that was their name; what the surfers waiting for her to let them in to the club called them anyway. She always found it strange how much spiritual significance was attached to the act of catching a wave, that joy of finding an equilibrium between order and chaos, surfing an unstable line to the end. Sounded fun and stupid at the same time.
Now she just sat and waited, musing on the processing power of the surfer’s bodies. Wondering if they could, by feeling, outperform her new ware.
Probably. she thought, as so far she hadn’t been able to find any usage instructions in english or any other language, and had resorted to running what she hoped was the calibration utility. At lest that explained a bit of what was going on, if only in old Cantonese.
Breve was waiting for the best wave of the day. Actually, the new ware was using her sensory input to generate a probability of when the best wave of the day would break. Basic stuff really; any kid’s toy had natural pattern rec built in these days. Again she wondered whether her new client was maybe not all there in the marbles department. Whatever. Credit was credit — and she had the retainer already. So… still waiting. 2:16, 2:15, 2:14…
From what little she understood, the ware was also mapping to her thought patterns. ‘Imprinting’ was the closest translation she could find in her dictionary module. Sounded like a kitten with its mother. Breve didn’t care what it did, as long as she could turn it off if it bugged her. She’d run the usual virus and trojan tests on it before plugging the chip into the reader in her jacket, coming up clean, but you never know what new shit there is out there these days.
shoulda got t3k to look at it first… her instincts told her she’d be fine though. Maybe it was the ware she was feeling, as it burrowed its way through her skull, mapping the neural networks she had there, trying to become more like her.
0:07, 0:06, 0:05 … should see something by now. There. It was a great wave. Breve was the only surfer ready as the sea rose up and flowed unmatched, unridden, to curl beautifully into the soft foam that ringed the beach. Impeccable.
Rising to leave, her contacts readout changed, indicating that the ware had successfully mapped itself to her neural structure, that she was imprinted. A small chime sounded in her ear. No. Sounded in her brain, making her think it was sounding in her ear.
“Great.” she muttered, to no one in particular, walking across the carpark to the nearest station, “better get this shit checked out properly before I fry something.” Time to see t3k.
Breve was familiar with the prickly, hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling most people associated with corporeal processing oddities, deja-vu, or your plain old heightened awareness. Usually it happened just before she was attacked.
Usually, it saved her (& her employers) lives. She felt it now — neck like a cold breeze had blown in from the arctic, adrenaline. Skin, clammy and cold, galvanics on the rise. here we go again. Accessing physical stats confirmed her guess; fight or flight response imminent, and from the look of that red dot in her contact’s HUD, something or someone was behind her, to the left, displaying what her new pattern rec ware thought was decidedly threatening behaviour.
Great. Fight or flight very fucking imminent.
She’d picked them up two stops out from her destination, leaving the train at once to avoid bringing t3k into any danger. Last thing she needed was him angry at her too, now she needed a favour.
Commuters pressed in as she looked for the best way to clear, safer ground. Immediately her vision registered a new overlay, one that depicted the crowd as a field of little arrows registering people’s individual moments of inertia.
Breve saw no way through them, but the ware did, hi-lighting a circuitous route across the sea of vectors. She followed, keeping one eye on the red dot tailing her. It was closer now, and looking about as unpleasant as a red dot could in a sea of data.
The route through the crowd was smooth, she felt herself picked up and swept along with a minimum of stress and positioning. Using the polished perspex front of a vending machine on the platform, she managed to get a view of him. Just long enough for her to scan the facial and body proportion details. Her software brought a composite image up in an unused corner of vision, studying it while preparing herself.
Not much to go on. No match with any of her local databases, even with the heuristics maxed the closest match she came up with was someone she was personally certain was already dead, and this far inside the station it was still too risky to use her hacked account to access Central for a wider pool of candidates.
Okay then Mr Nobody… she thought, giving in to the inevitable with the beginning of a smile in her eyes … let’s party.
Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt.
She remembered that from a movie somewhere, it came back now as her body went into automatic. Funny how time seemed to slow down, even before you engaged — put it down to the continuing effects of adrenaline.
Looking for a body and the place to act, she spotted a small alcove up on the left, and a suitable target about three people ahead; shoulder length red hair and green jacket. Resetting her trajectory for the alcove caused the pattern rec ware to remap the crowd and feed her another seemingly random route. Selecting the green jacketed redhead as well created an intricate system of curves to appear on her HUD, converging at the alcove. A slight correction in her next step, little more to the right, and she was on the path. Breve felt like a broker trading with inside information, able to make sense of the random flow of commuters, being able to use the flow for her own ends.
Another reflected glimpse, ah… an amateur. He was looking straight at her now — and just too far away — this would be easy. Feeling herself being pulled toward the alcove she tensed, as a small matte disc slipped silently from her jacket into her palm. Three steps away, making sure he was looking, she took off her hat, letting her red hair fall down around her army surplus jacket. There… just long enough to get the idea, but not long enough to tell the difference. Falling into step behind the redhead, Breve flicked the disc through a gap in the crowd and waited for it to rest. She triggered the show.
A compressed technological blipvert broke loose along the left hand side of the passage. Emitting a tone pitched somewhere around 15 kHz, the disc gave off two seconds of stroboscopic red and blue light pulses, which had two particular effects.
Firstly, the frequency of the tone, designed to sub-consciously raise reptile brain anxiety levels, did its job. The crowd experienced mild panic, as though some long-forgotten part of their brain was trapped, suffocating, in tunnels deep underground. She could feel the tension beginning to rise. Secondly, her would-be tail was momentarily distracted by the light, giving her the chance to crouch beneath the crowd and hide in the alcove. By the time he looked straight at the source of the distraction, it had ceased, and she was gone. Protected from the panic of the crowd, Breve nestled back into the alcove and watched him lock on to the redhead, attempting to follow her up the stairs. She waited until they both turned the corner and easily made her way back to the platform, with some help from the pattern rec ware, to catch the next train. Too easy. Kinda disappointing really… now, t3k.
“this ware has .mil written all over it.” t3k was a little edgy today, metabolism hooked up to some bioware simulating various cocktails of drugs in his augmented bloodstream. He looked up from his tests.
“…from the look of it, i’d say it’s written in pretty large neon korean characters.”
“heavy work, this. imho. where’d you say you got it?” his eyes danced with neon letters of their own; t3k was weird about using bio-sees — he didn’t like anything that was halfway in or out of the body. Relied on these ancient goggles that floated about 3 centimeters off the face — early AR gear.
“..fair enough.” he feigned indifference, “what you want with this stuff, eh? Could get you into some deep shit.”
“work.” if t3k was worth half what people paid him, he ought to know what she did for a living. Hell, like it wasn’t obvious anyway from all the crazy mods she had.
“riiiiiight. work.” he wheezed in the most annoying ‘I-know-more-than-you-even-about-yourself’ voice. Breve’s mind wandered for a second, wondering what it might be like to do something incredibly cruel to him, like making him to stay somewhere outdoors and natural, maybe the forest she had visited as a child. He wouldn’t last an hour. Sometimes she thought she’d like to have the chance of staying a lifetime.
“… probably miss the buzz though…”
“whatever. hey, come over here for a sec… need to get another snapshot for iRoy”
“iRoy? who the fuck is iRoy tEk?” she was pissed now — he ought to know better than bring third parties in in to the equation.
“not ‘who’ B-girl, ‘what’. a new agent the Finn found, christ knows where. ‘spretty cool at ware analysis though. i wanna give it a crack at yr new toy.”
The Finn. That was right, someone had told her he lived here now. Weird.
“Hey t3k, what’s the Finn do these days?”
“how the fuck should i know? whatever he wants i guess.” he moved a small object through the air around her left ear and Breve shuddered. “Sometimes brings me stuff he’s made or found — started growing wares you know — in his ‘gardens’. comes to me and says ‘Just found this in the garden… thought you might find it useful, old son…’ shit like that. crazy as a loon. half the stuff he brings me’s bollocks of course, but hey, he’s the Finn.”
“Just wondering. Someone told me about him once. Is it true that…” t3k cut her off. Jiving the signs for careful + friendlies present.
“That’s alright t3k, can’t you see that our guest has a question on her mind?” a metallic voice, weird and synthetic, coming from somewhere in the room… Breve couldn’t place it, those hairs on her neck were up again.
“Please don’t be afraid Breve,” it said to her, “I’ve been meaning to say hello for a while. Now just seemed like the most opportune time, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Ah… “ shit, she was never tongue tied. “yeah, sure.”
“Exceptional. So… t3k?”
“yeh, sure .. b-girl, this is the Finn. Finn, this is Breve. you two get along now okay?” As introduced, the image of a small, disheveled man walked through the locked door.
“Sorry about that. Helps with the continuity though, would you care to join me in the next room?” he bowed slightly, hand outstretched beckoning her to follow.
“Right. Continuity.” Breve stood and walked toward the door as the Finn dissolved through it again.
The Finn was who you went to see if you needed to test or fence some ware, find someone who didn’t want to be found, get yourself debugged, or hire some privacy. In short, do just about anything situated near that edge between law, ethics and technology.
He’d operated out of the sprawl about a decade ago, Breve had heard people talk about him once or twice, usually people who’d known someone who’d known someone… more like an urban legend than reality. Then she’d heard the strangest story of all from an ancient street samurai at a clinic in Chiba.
Seems that the Finn hadn’t made out ok. From what she heard, he’d been wanted by the Turing cops after some unpleasantness with an AI that went awol. Big news about 20 years back. Problem was, Turing didn’t get to him before the Zaibatsu did.
Rumor was they never found all of him.
Someone like the Finn makes a big hole when they disappear, but the sprawl has a unique way of filling big holes in a fluid and silent way, kind of like jungle reclaiming lost cities. People like t3k sprang up to fill the gaps left in the market, and life went on as usual, but about two years later whispers started circulating that the Finn had been scanned by the Zaibatsu before he was ‘disappeared’.
Somehow t3k had got hold of an Image. Breve heard that he’d won it in a bet. However he did it, the Finn lived here now, or the Image did. From what t3k had to say, he obviously spent a lot of time online too. Gardening.
Breve closed the door behind her and the old training kicked in: scan the room in a single fluid motion… exits, entries, threats, cover. It didn’t take long, even in multiple wavebands there wasn’t much of interest.
The Finn stood in the centre of a 4x4x4m cube, not dissimilar to the one they had just left, but while tEk’s room was filled with accoutrements of his craft and bodily needs — strange black boxes, just as likely to be vintage sigint hardware as new japanese coffee makers — the Finn’s only concession to corporeality was an overstuffed red leather armchair & brass reading lamp sitting on a rectangular rug of Afgan design in one corner of the room. The rest of the room was bare concrete, frosty air.
“Please do come in, make yourself at home.” the Finn motioned toward the chair.
Breve walked across the room, feeling a strange twinge as she moved from the door, as if the cold was seeping through the soles of her shoes. Suddenly she was aware of her heightened state, unable to explain why her body felt so… apprehensively alive.
She shivered, unsure if the cold or something else made her. Shit… what was going on here? “What you have in mind Finn?” she asked.
The Finn shrugged and grinned at her.
“Just a second… There.” he replied, looking at something in the empty space between them. Breve’s bio-sees, previously displaying a screensaver she used while working that monitored bodily vitals and various ambient phenomena, blinked out. Nothing. Less than nothing — the Finn was still there.
Breve freaked. The what-the-fuck-is-happening!? question flying around her brain like some out of control firehose. Her first response: flight, she fought. Her second, to attack whatever had her cornered, wasn’t much use against a phantom. Weighing up her possible options triggered more training and she waited, trying to give away as little information as possible.
“let me tell you a story Breve.” the Finn croaked.
“It came to me in a dream, while I was gardening. It’s so peaceful, tending to the young ware, seeing them grow and learn. Each is unique, yet they all share something, an algorithm here, a structure there, like DNA”
“…but I digress. Yes, we were going to tell you a story.” he moved from the door toward her.
“Do you read Breve? Books, I mean.” an old leather bound book appeared in the Finns hand, opened somewhere in the middle.
Strange fucking question.“Not much. Manuals and the news mostly.”
“Consider this. Have you ever got to the end of a page only to realise that you’ve been thinking of something else for some time? Everyone does it — doesn’t need to be reading… anything will do.” the Finn turned away from her, seeming to study the object in his hand as it pulsed in a blur of objects. She caught sight of a book, terminal, flower, a miniature globe earth amongst others.
“Now think about it.” he turned back to her “What happens to the stuff you’ve been reading?”
“Your eyes have been looking at the words, your brain has been forming them into sentences. But it seems to stop there; your brain is occupied with another… narrative” her eyes followed him around the room.
“A narrative that subtly surfaced from the text somewhere between its inception a few pages back and here, where you’ve realised that it exists. Where you’ve realised that one part of you has been reading…” he stopped in the corner, reading the book again.
“While another has been somewhere else…” Breve spun around in the chair. somehow the Finn was now standing in front of her, while also standing over in the corner engrossed in the book. The closer Finn leaned in and grinned.
“So fucking WHAT Finn! … your point IS ?!” she spoke slowly, through aggravated clenched teeth, fighting back the urge to attempt major damage to this ghost that stood before her. In the past she’d cut short peoples’ reproductive possibilities for less. Literally.
The Finn eyed her up and down, slowly. Now she was getting REALLY pissed off. He took a step forward and whispered to her. “My ‘point’, as you put it, is that awareness has multiple forms, one of which is our traditional ‘intellect’. There are others, in fact you use many of them in your line of work.”
“Huh?” what the fuck is this guy on? she thought. Something felt decidedly wrong here. Weird warning signs, shit! Could sure use those bio-sees right about now.
“What I mean, Breve, is your physical awareness. Your inbuilt warning systems.” the Finn was way past spooky now… time for fight and flight.
move move move move move move move move move move move move move move move move move move move move move move move move!
Her brain screamed.
Areas of least danger… she scanned. Tensing her body to evacuate the chair, she lurched forward catapulting herself through the spectre of the Finn. At least that was the plan. Her feet came into contact with something that felt like a soft torso and she realised that her momentum had been planned to pass through the image of a projection, not to knock a body down. She bounced off the Finn, her mind racing.
Letting the wave of surprise subside, she pulled into a fetal position and rolled out of the fall, recovering just in time to see the furniture disappear, swallowed into the floor as if it had grown out of the concrete, and was now being recovered.
She blinked. Things were a little weird.
“What’s going on?!” she demanded, spinning around to face her opponent. Relishing the thought of being able to inflict actual damage.
“Wait, Breve.” the Finn was standing before her, his breath fogging in the cold damp air of the room. “You’ve done well, sorry if you’re confused but we had to check.”
“Where am I!? … Check? what check? and WHO THE FUCK IS WE?!!” she launched at the Finn, this time with the intent of physical contact, aiming one kick to the outside of his knee, that would slow him down a bit. She had another ready, to the throat, if he gave her any more trouble.
She felt the ball of her foot make contact with his knee.
The Finn vanished, appearing on the other side of the room instantaneously. Breve, committed to the blow, rolled again and scrambled around to face him again.
“Breve. Please. Calm down and let me explain. You can’t harm me here, well… not yet anyway.” he smirked
“You’re in a ‘scape’, something that I’ve made. I use it now and then to meet physical entities.”
“How?” she moved closer.
“When t3k was scanning you, we did the switch — you wouldn’t have noticed it unless you were looking for it. Just before I ‘arrived’ to speak with you.”
“This has something to do with that crazy ware I’ve been running, yeah?” It was all beginning to make a kind of fucked up sense to her now.
“Yes…” he smiled “…and no. Yes I sent you the ware, but I don’t know what it does, or how. Just that it’s extremely different to anything I’ve seen before.”
“What do you mean? Where’d you get it then?” she looked for an exit, but the door wasn’t where it had been. There was no door.
“It was sent to me by someone I met a long time ago, before I came… here” he looked sad all of a sudden, lost in a memory.
“Who?” she wondered about the AI that was always mentioned in connection with the Finn’s disappearance. What was it’s name? ‘brainsurgeon’ or something.
“That doesn’t matter yet, you’ll find out in good time.” said the Finn, his reverie suddenly forgotten and standing in front of her, put his arm on her shoulder and looked her straight in the eye,
“First of all, we’ve got a little job for you.”
Afterword: The Finn’s Dream
I’m standing on a small rounded hill. Somewhere in the countryside. It’s night.
There’s more stars than I’ve ever seen before, sharp and brilliant overhead, clustered in weird patterns that make me feel somehow lost, or in an alien location. I think to myself that it’s funny, I’ve never even noticed the constellations, yet I know when they’re wrong.
I realise something is behind me. A building. It crowns the hill and from the look of it was obviously an edifice of some importance once. Stone galleries in revival gothic style how do I even know what that is?, now overgrown and abandoned. I am reminded of a set of crypts I once visited in the remains of Highgate Cemetery, before they preserved it.
I walk towards it, drawn by a strange rumbling. As I peer into the darkness within I see, or rather sense, movement and related sounds — far away. My eyes slowly grow accustomed to the dark and I see that the building is crumbling. Not in the ‘very old and falling to bits slowly over decades’ sense, but actually falling apart before my very eyes. Then suddenly the building is crumbling around me, as if it has jumped the final few meters that separate us, and I know that now I’m faced with a choice; I can go back into the cool night behind me, starry skies, chirruping crickets, the wind through the leaves of the trees, or enter into the melee before me.
I choose the latter and, before I can rethink, run screaming into the dust.
As I tear through the wreckage, boulders of granite and marble fall from the heavens smashing archways and ramparts far above, sending more enormous blocks of concrete and masonry crashing to the ground. The noise is deafening. I weave randomly this way and that, but always forward at full speed, my heart about to burst from fear and exhilaration.
At some point it dawns on me that I can come to no harm in this place, and as I slow to a walk the roar and thunder of the destruction fades to silence. The dust clears from the air, and I can begin to see beyond the immediate rubble. Great boulders continue to rain from the darkness above in slow motion. On hitting the floor they make no sound and raise no dust. It is then that I see the gallery and debris continue beyond me into the distance in all directions, and I perceive the extent of this infinite edifice, in constant demolition.
A light appears a little further on, between two building sized rocks of concrete and steel. All I can hear is the ‘crunch crunch’ of my feet on the gravel beneath me.
I walk forward, into the light, waiting.
“close my eyes… she’s somehow closer now…”
— Good Vibrations. Brian Wilson / The Beach Boys