"So basically what you're saying is the dame is nuts?"
Walker lifted two of the heavy cases out of the van at once. Everett frowned and stuck a thick finger in Walker's face. "Now don't go talking that kinda shit once we're inside," he said. "You're lucky I brought you in for this, so I don't expect to hear anything out of you except 'please' and 'thank you', understand me?"
Walker leaned on the tower of hard plastic cases holding the components of the rig. He scratched his unshaven chin, squinted against the light reflecting off of Everett's bald head, then said:
"Fuck that, as long as she's inside and we're outside I'll tell it like it is, and the way it is that the dame is nuts. There's no such thing as data angels."
Everett threw up his hands. "Here we go."
Walker secured the cases to the hand truck with elastic cords. "You can bitch me out all you like, but your bullshit is still bullshit. Data angels are just urban legends leftover from a bunch hopheads back in '39 mixing LSD with immersive simulations. You and your bullshit."
"It's not my bullshit," said Everett, leaning against the side of the van, "it's the old lady's."
"So you don't believe it?"
"I believe she's got money and that she's inclined to give me some and that I'm inclined to give you some, and beyond that I don't care. She can tell me she saw angels, demons, dragons, or the last Dalai Lama in her computer, doesn't mean shit to me as long as the money is real."
The cases were all secure, and they began the long trip up the gravel walkway toward the villa, Walker taking it slow so that he didn't risk tipping over the equipment.
"Okay, forget the old lady for two minutes and just fucking tell me, do you believe it or not?"
Everet paused. "You see some strange things on the net, that's for sure. You know Topline?"
"Jesus man, are you fucking kidding me? Ev, when are you gonna give up this hacker bullshit with nicknames and bad software? That shits for middle school kids who watch too many movies." The hard plastic wheel of the truck hit a rock and Walker had to fight to keep it upright.
"Well Topline," Everett continued, ignoring the interruption, "was trying to break into some secure server a while back, a municipal system, regulates power to the robo-tram or something like that."
"Fuck of it. Anyway, you gotta be careful when you're doing that kind of thing, because security systems can't be looked at in Full Sensory Input, you know? They're not designed that way, you have to use an old fashioned 2D screen, with a keyboard and everything, or else you're gonna have problems. Looking at a firewall when you're immersed is like staring into the sun, your goddamn brain will burn out ."
"Is that what they call 'hitting the wall?'" Walker asked.
"Yep. So Topline, he thinks he's gotten all the way in and past all the security and into the regular system, but what he doesn't know is that the program he beat was just a dummy, a decoy. He thinks he's into the normal user network, so he turns his transmitter on, and then he finds himself staring right at the real firewall, and I mean right into it."
"Shit. He fry?"
"Nope. He got lucky, got out in time. But he was looking right at the wall for a twentieth of a second, and you know what he saw?"
"What?" Walker said. They'd finally reached the top of the hill and he stopped to mop his forehead with his sleeve.
"Jellyfish," Everett said.
Walker blinked. "The fuck?"
"S'what the man said. Said that all of that data, rendered into an image too complex for the brain to comprehend, streaming right from the transmitter into his visual cortex for a fraction of a second, looked like thousand and thousands of multi-colored jellyfish dancing on the ocean floor. Man even painted a picture of it, hung it in his kitchen. Freaky shit."
Walker stared at him.
"Point is," Everett continued, "there's lots of strange things out there. I don't go around telling anyone what they did or didn't see, cuz I don't know, cuz I wasn't there, and I'm not gonna say anything's impossible. You keep that in mind when we talk to the old lady, got it?"
Walker just nodded, pushing the cart along the path that ran around the villa's outer wall. He whistled. "Would you look at this place? Old broad really is loaded."
"You don't know the half of it."
"What's she need this shit for anyway?"
"Shit?" Everett said, his voice rising an octave. "You're selling the lady shit, are you?"
"You know what I mean. This is good gear, but you can't tell me she doesn't have better. The kind of money that builds a house like this could build a rig that would make this one look like a CB radio. This broad wrote the code for the first FSI sites, she patented the whole modern web back in '39, so what's she need my rig for?"
"I don't ask questions. No money in asking questions," said Everett. "You're a hardware agent, so you worry about the hardware, okay?"
"It's all just sockets," Walker said before he thought better of it.
"Sockets man," said Walker. "That's all life is anymore. This rig here, it's all just sockets and plugs, you put one to the other, and then you put yourself into it."
"Are you on drugs?"
"That's what people do, we plug shit in. I plug this computer into this lady's house, then she plugs herself into it, and then she plugs some money into my bank account."
Everett turned and looked at him. "Alright, look, we gotta lay some ground rules here. First of all, don't go talking any of your bullshit in front of the client. Second, keep in mind she's a little out there. If she asks you to something strange, don't argue, just do it. This is a sweet deal I brought you in on, so it's worth putting up with a little weird shit, got it?"
Walker opened his mouth, but the look on Everett's face made him think better of it, so he nodded instead.
"Good," Everett said, turning again. Walker heard him muttering under his breath as they went along: "Sockets. Fucking kids these days..."
The garden was surrounded by a low wall, and through the arch Walker could see the terrace. Sitting in a sun chair, waiting for them, dressed all in loose white cotton clothes, was Mafuane Azikiwe. She nodded at Everett as they entered, but did not even look at Walker until Everett introduced him.
"This is Walk," Everett said, with a half-nod in Walker's direction, "he's the guy I told you about, my hardware agent. Builds all of his tech himself, and this stuff's brand new, so there'll be no problems."
Mafuane gave him a studied look. She wasn't nearly as old as he would have expected. She must have been just a kid back in '39, he realized.
"Well that's very good to hear," said Mafuane, her accent barely detectable after twenty years in Edinburgh. "Walker, is it? Just set it up over there," she nodded at a console built into the interior of the garden wall. Walker wheeled the cart over, removing the straps and cracking each open one by one.
The rig was his own design, but more or less standard. When fully assembled, it would convert a satellite signal into an ultra high frequency that, combined with its own internal programming and the help of some other equipment, would replace the natural sensory input of everyone in range with a fabricated, simulated, computer-generated fake reality, an immersive world wide web of information that you could not only hear and see, but also smell and taste and feel.
All made possible, Walker realized, by the fifty year old patents of the woman who was sitting less than ten feet away.
He got ready to assemble the rig, then stopped when he looked at the console. An almost-identical system was already installed. He frowned, looking at the transmitter. It was brand new?
"Oh that," said Mafuane, watching him from behind. "Just put that anywhere. It's old equipment."
"Doesn't look old," Walker said. Everett shot him a look that said to shut up and collect a paycheck, so Walker began unhooking the system without further comment.
"Now, Mr. Everett," Walker heard Mafuane say, "how much have you told Mr. Walker about our work?"
"Only what he needs to know," said Everett.
"Just that I'm helping you with your research, and that you wanted a new system built, and that it had to accommodate the custom software I wrote for you," said Everett.
Which wasn't quite true, Walker thought. He had also mentioned that the whole point of that software was to seek out anomalous bits of code on sites, areas of "bunching" that the old lady was convinced were evidence of some crackpot story about programs that were alive. But Walker kept his mouth shut and booted up the transmitter. Looking good.
"We're ready," he said, taking the switches and receivers from their cases. He handed one set to Mafuane, then passed the other to Everett, but Mafuane held up a hand.
"Actually Mr. Walker, I think perhaps it would be better if you joined me instead of Mr. Everett."
Everett froze, and Walker bit his tongue.
"But I'm just a tech vendor," Walker said. "Everett here is your man for online exploration, that's his whole deal."
Mafuane looked at Everett with eyes the color of old leather, and Everett blanched. She turned to Walker. "Even so, I feel a need for a fresh pair of eyes on this expedition. You won't need to do anything beyond your abilities I promise you. Just keep alert and follow instructions. You can do that, can't you?"
Walker sighed inwardly. He wasn't interested in humoring the old bat. But Everett had warned him to expect something weird, and he was getting paid twice as much as he could reasonably expect for a simple job like this, so he supposed this was just the way things were going to be.
"Sure," he said, "whatever you like m'am." He settled into the extra chair, strapping the switch securely to his wrist and holding the receiver on his lap.
"After you, Mr. Walker," said Mafuane.
Walker nodded to Everett. Ev would stay behind and keep an eye on them while they were immersed. Everyone had heard stories about the early days of FSI, when no one thought to use a spotter and people ended up starving to death because the faux-reality of the new internet completely divorced them from any sense of time or physicality.
Walker turned his receiver on, flipped the switch, and closed his eyes. The transition was always a lit bit easier with his eyes closed. He heard a faint whine that faded as the signal from the transmitter adjusted itself to match what his auditory cortex perceived as real sound. Then came the tingling sensation as his sense of touch came onboard, and the smell that always reminded him faintly of stale popcorn, and then (the worst part) the taste like copper wire. Finally he allowed himself to open is eyes, and he "saw" the neutral gray space of a blank web page in front of him.
He reached for the switch and felt the familiar, comforting sides of its soft rubber grips in his hand, the one and only thing that the transmitter did not block out. Just flip the switch anytime you want and you're out, he reminded himself.
"Are we all here, Mr. Walker?" said Mafuane's voice, her real world sub-vocalizations detected by her receiver and rendered as "sound" on the private channel tied to their shared rig.
"Yep, just getting my sea legs back," Walker said. He wished the old broad would dial a site. Staring at all of this gray was making his dizzy.
"I would think you'd be used to it, in your line of work," Mafuane said.
"I'm a hardware vendor," said Walker. "I'm a little more real world-centric than Everett is. I like working with my hands, my tools, you know." He almost added "sockets", but this time stopped himself.
"Ah," said Mafuane.
In the center of the non-space, a bright blue sphere appeared, semi-gelatinous in appearance, and its surface quivered to indicate that Mafuane was accessing it. You've got to be fucking kidding me, thought Walker, that's a civilian web browser, the same one school kids to use. He wasn't sure what kind of crazy software Everett had designed for Mafuane's snipe hunt or how legal it was, but he didn't think parading it through public servers was a good idea.
An icon popped up in his periphery vision indicating that Mafuane's search, whatever it was, was done. A window flashed: "Continue to results?" He flicked his eye over "YES", blinked twice, and the gray emptiness faded away.
Walker suddenly found himself in a simulation of a dimly-lit nightclub, all stainless steel with blue-tint lighting and throbbing neon pink strobes. He felt a comfortable leather chair, smelled perfume and sweat nearby, and discovered that there was a drink on the table in front of him, a hint of its taste tingling on the tip of his tongue. There was music pounding on all sides, sounding like someone having a seizure on a drum synthesizer.
He looked around. The site represented a nightclub full of tables (all empty), a bar, (also empty), and a half dozen circular stages illuminated by spotlights, each of which held one to three scantily-clad women in the midst of various sex acts. He flicked his eyes upward and checked the site address: "XXX-dreamgirlz.FSI".
As far as porn sites went, this one was distinctly retro, but it suited his tastes. The only question was why he was here?
It was Mafuane's voice, and a sim body representing her appeared across the table. It looked like her, but apparently twenty or so years younger, probably based off of older video footage. The younger Mafuane smiled, crossed her legs, and sipped her drink as she regarded him.
"I guess," he said. "Where are we?"
"It's called 'Dream Girlz'. Doesn't look like much now, but it's a piece of history; one of the first fully immersive sites on the net."
Walker squeezed the switch for reassurance. "Why are we here?"
"One site is as good as any other," said Mafuane, signaling for another drink, which appeared immediately.
"So I ask again: why here?"
"Because it's out of the way, and no one comes here much anymore. And because I could guarantee privacy, since I own it."
Walker blinked, and Mafuane grinned again.
"As a matter of fact," she said, "Dream Girlz was my first big moneymaker. I'd guess that probably ten percent of what I have now came from the opening of this site. It makes me a little nostalgic, in a way. They really don't make them like this anymore."
She pointed. "You see that sign over the bar?"
Walker saw throbbing pink neon lettering that read:
EVEN BETTER THAN THE REAL THING.
"That was our marketing strategy," Mafuane explained. "Now it doesn't mean anything at all."
"Why not?" Walker said, somewhat distracted by the floorshow. A blond onstage was teasing a brunette's nipple piercing with her tongue. The girls all had the telltale blue outline indicating that they were prerecorded video displays rather than sims of real live women, but it was still a good show.
"No one cares about the real thing anymore," Mafuane said. "I'm told there's an entire generation of young people who have never even bothered to try it. Have you?"
Walker squirmed. "What, you mean like, phys? In the raw?"
"Real sex ,Walk, yes."
"Sure, I tried it. I like old-fashioned things sometimes," he took a drink of surprisingly realistic Jack and Coke. "But I dunno, I guess it's just one of those, what do you call it, acquired tastes. Most guys at least like to use a visual interface even with physical sex, and I know some guys who won't do real phys contact at all, just pure cyber."
Mafuane's sim had eyes a deeper, darker color than her real ones. Walker wondered if she was coming onto him? What did this have to do with the job?
"I'm told there's almost no venereal disease anymore, now that most sex is had with computers and most pregnancies are initiated in a lab. It wasn't like that when I was your age. So tell me Walk, do you know what we're looking for here?"
Walker shook his head.
"Well, I'm sure Everett probably told you more than he was supposed to, but it's nice of you to cover for him. We're chasing ghosts, Mr. Walker."
Walker nodded. "Yeah, I figured something like that. Data angels, the old hackers used to call them. Used to say that machines had voices and that there were people online who weren't really people, just programs posing as people, that kind of thing."
"And you thought they were just old ghost stories from superstitious programmers?"
Walker nodded. "Pretty much."
"Well, what if I told you that they were all true, and that we were going to find some of those ghosts here? That sapient intelligences composed purely of information have existed since the earliest computer networks?"
Walker shook his head. "I would say that you're the boss."
Mafuane smiled again. "Smart answer, Walk. You'll earn your pay yet."
Walker was about to reply, but a window appeared to his left, displaying a girl in spandex shorts and a white cotton tank top that hugged her breasts. "WOULD YOU LIKE A PRIVATE DANCE?" blinked the caption. The girl in the window smiled and blew him a kiss.
Walker blinked his eyes over "NO", but, unexpectedly, the "YES" button lit up instead, and a selection menu presented itself.
"Go ahead, Walk," said Mafuane. "This one's on me."
Walker looked at her. Okay, he thought, this is officially creeping me out. What was the old lady's angle?
"I thought we were looking for your ghosts?"
"We are. This is all part of the process. You'll indulge me, won't you? For what I'm paying, you should. Besides, it's not like I'm asking you to do anything hard..."
Walker's eyes flicked over the menu, which presented him with a variety of options: height, weight, hair color, ethnicity, body type, cup size, etc. It was a pretty impressive spread considering how old the site was. He really didn't feel comfortable doing with the client sitting right across from him. He wondered if maybe this was just how she gets off.
Fuck it, he thought, flipping on his privacy screen so that she wouldn't be able to read over his shoulder. He checked a few boxes, designing his customized Dream Girl, and then she appeared on his lap exactly as he had ordered her, smiling and throwing her arms around his neck. "Hi baby," she said.
He had to admit, it was a good model, obviously based on a real person. The FSI interface communicated the weight of the girl’s body on his lap (not enough to be realistic and therefore uncomfortable, but enough to create a pleasing sense of firmness) and the heat from her skin. He "heard" the jingle of her jewelry, and could even “smell” her perfume. "Thanks for buying," said the girl, smiling. "You ready to have some fun?"
"Sure," he said, "why not?"
The Dream Girl straddled his lap and stripped off her top, shaking her shoulders to show off the goods. Walker watched her perfectly rendered tits bobble and thought that someone somewhere had really earned their pay.
His privacy screen blocked his view of Mafuane (and more importantly, her view of him), and he muted their channel. Fuck it, he thought, she gets mad, this was her idea anyway. The rest of the bar was still visible though, and he was briefly distracted by the stage show, where a girl with spiky bleached hair and eyebrow piercings lolled naked on the floor, spreading her legs to allow a black girl to mount her with an intimidating-looking dildo strapped on.
His Dream Girl sat up a little higher. “So what kind of fun do you want to have baby?” she purred.
A new menu appeared over her head: “OPTIONS: UNLIMITED.” Well that’s nice, he thought. A list of sex acts, with submenus for technique and duration, scrolled down. Some of them were pretty exotic. Unable to make up his mind, he simply chose “STANDARD PACKAGE."
The girl squealed. “Good choice baby!” she said. “You know I’m Even Better Than the Real Thing, right?”
“That’s what I keep hearing,” said Walker, again watching the stage where the punky blond and black girl were now 69ing while a third girl in a PVC bodysuit put the strap-on to them in turns. A menu appeared: “DO YOU WANT A GROUP SESSION?” He blinked twice over “NO.”
“Alright baby, here we go,” said the Dream Girl, sliding down to put her head between his legs. Walker felt a strange sense of vertigo as the programming of the site suddenly communicated the feeling of a raging hard-on. Dazed, he flipped the switch in his right hand, turning off his receiver and slamming him back into the real world.
He looked at Mafuane, still zoned out in cyberspace next to him. Everett was, for some reason, gone. Probably taking a leak, Walker guessed. He checked to make sure he had a legitimate, real-world erection before switching back to the simulation. He didn’t like computers telling him what was going on with his own body, but as long as his body agreed it was alright.
When he got back the Dream Girl was already stroking his (sim’s) cock with both hands, purring as she did. “Oh my, I’ve never seen one like that before!” she said, which Walker doubted, since every cybersex club in existence furnished their customer’s sims with endowments so amazing that they would probably maim a real person.
Dream Girl went down and began sucking from the head all the way along the shaft. Walker relaxed, letting the program do its work. It was impressive software, accurately reproducing the pleasant, soft firmness of sucking lips, the hot wetness of the inside of a mouth, the pleasing feel of kinky hair running through his fingers. He even forgot the feeling of the switch for a few minutes as Dream Girl bobbed her head up and down.
He watched the stage show as she worked. The black girl had wandered off, and now PVC girl was sitting on a high stool while the punk girl knelt at her feet wearing nothing but thigh-high boots and handcuffs. She hung her head and looked at the ground with apparent shame, and anytime she glanced up her reward was for PVC girl to push a high-heeled boot into her face until she looked down again.
Eventually PVC pushed the handcuffed blond to the stage floor with her foot. The blond lay sprawled on her back, hands still cuffed. She was panting and her naked breasts quivered with each breath. PVC planted the toe of her boot between the blonde's breasts, directly over her heart, and ground her foot slowly once, twice, three times. The girl on the floor rolled her eyes and moaned.
As Walker watched, the girl unzipped an oval flap on the front of her rubber bodysuit, opening it at the crotch, and began rubbing her exposed pussy with two fingers. The shiny black rubber of her gloves contrasted with the creamy whiteness of the exposed flesh, the whole scene flashing pink and blue with the throbbing pulse of the lighting, the out of control rhythm of the music pushing them along.
The girl on the floor groveled, straining under the boot holding her down, until eventually PVC seized her by her spiky bleached hair, pulled her up, and shoved her face into her crotch. Her mouth molded to the opening, and the top girl pushed hard on the back of her head as if trying to smother her, biting her own lip as she did.
Walker watched all this while enjoying the long, intense strokes of Dream Girl's attentive mouth. A timer at the corner of his eye told him how much longer until the programmed climax. Growing a little bored and wanting to skip ahead to the next position, he advanced it. The signals from the program fired into his brain, hyper-stimulating the pleasure centers, and sending him off into a pretty good simulation of an orgasm. In the old days they used to joke that when you got a really good one you could smell the wires sizzle. Walker thought he got a whiff of that now.
The program provided a suitable cumshot animation. Dream girl smiled bigger than ever. Walker smiled back. "Well, aren't you an angel?" he said, stroking her hair with one hand and fondling her tits with the other.
She nodded. "Yes," she said, "I am an angel."
"Well what are we doing next angel?"
"What else," she said, winking. "We're going to paradise."
And then she seemed to fly apart into too many pieces to count, her model separating at the seams and scattering. Before he even realized what was happening, the walls, floor, and ceiling of the club broke apart and dissolved, and even his sim was blown away. He was left looking at something that there were no words for, like staring straight into the sun, a chunk of data too large and too dense to be rendered in any way accessible to the human mind.
As he felt himself hit the wall, Walker thought: "Jellyfish. Thousands and thousands of multi-colored jellyfish."
And then for a while there was nothing at all.
The club was gone, lights, music, girls and all. When Walker came to (somewhat surprised to not be brain dead), he was instead in what looked like a kind of primeval forest full of great trees, their trunks crowned by inky darkness and their huge gnarled roots lacing the ground like the bones of giants.
He tried to move and found he couldn't. He was, for some reason, tied naked to a tree trunk. What the fuck happened, he thought. He looked for the site address, but found only a string of zeroes where it should be. He reached for the switch...and it wasn't there! His right hand pushed against the bark of the tree, as fully immersed in the digital illusion as everything else.
"Comfortable?" said Mafuane's voice.
Walker saw movement out in the darkness. One by one they appeared, their walk stilted and creeping as they peered out from around the tree trunks and then skittered closer. Walker shuddered when he saw them. This is a nightmare, he thought, it must be.
These creature's nude bodies had the suggestion of femininity, but nothing more than the suggestion. Their skin looked like shiny plastic and granulated rubber, and their bodies were blank and undefined, a smooth sexless plain between their legs, their breasts only barely-detectable curves along the line of their torso, like the early model robo-love dolls he had seen in Zurich.
Worst of all was their faces: large eyes, wide mouths, sharp cheekbones. When they smiled he was reminded of the beaks of hungry birds opening up to devour a morsel.
Harpies, he thought.
One of them spoke, and he recognized the voice of his Dream Girl from the club:
"I'm an angel. Welcome to paradise."
"Yes Walk, welcome," said the harpy woman in the center, and Walker realized it was Mafuane. The sim she wore looked a bit like her real self, but with the same horrible, animatronic quality as the other "women" in the group.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"Where the fuck are we?" he said. The ropes used to secure him didn't feel particularly strong, but they offered no give of any kind. Where was the switch?
"A private server, far from anyone who might interrupt us."
"Who are they?" Walker said, eyeing the ghastly assemblage.
"They're the angels I told you about, Walk, the ones you don't believe in." Mafuane stroked the side of Dream Girl's cheek. "You've already met them all, actually, back in the club. I hope you appreciate the show they put on for you."
"Where the hell is my fucking switch?" He strained against the ropes.
"Oh, I came up long enough to take it out of your hand."
"What? Why? Why didn't Everett stop you? Wait a minute," Walker's thoughts ran ahead of him, "that motherfucker set me up, didn't he?"
"No, he didn't. Mr. Everett is dead."
Walker felt dazed again, this time by the feeling of fear divorced from the usual physical symptoms associated with it: no beating heart, no cold sweat, no adrenaline, just the raw, formless terror rolling around inside him.
"No he's not."
"Yes, he is. For the past two days."
"Then who brought me to you?"
"They did," Mafuane nodded to the angels, "using his body and some of his memories."
"Not really. Think of it as a sim in reverse. Problem is, my girls don't know how to play gently. Poor Everett didn't survive the strain they put on him."
"We liked him so much, we kept the best parts," said Dream Girl, and the others laughed. "All parts part of us. You can be too, if you like."
Walker imagined himself shivering, although his sim did not manifest it. "What the fuck are they?"
"Life, of a sort. Real, thinking, free-willed creatures composed entirely of information, almost as old as the net itself."
"So you found them?"
"I made them." She smiled. "Years ago, as part of my first fully immersive environments. They were just a sort of side experiment then, and not nearly as complex as what you see now. You can think of those early versions as the digital equivalent of single-celled organisms. I had no idea what they would eventually grow into."
"You must be so proud," said Walker. He didn't like the way they were all looking at him. He felt like the last hors d’oeuvre on a plate. "So what the fuck do you need me for?"
"The ladies have some questions for you Walk," said Mafuane. "If they like your answers, they'll let you go. You'll even get the money I promised you. But if they don't..."
"I get the idea. So what's so damn important?"
Mafuane opened her mouth, but Dream Girl beat her to the punch: "Why does Walk not copy?"
Walker frowned. "Excuse me?"
"Walk tried to copy with me," said the Dream Girl. "But Walk can't copy with me, and Walk knows it. So why?"
Walker looked at Mafuane. "I'm thinking you should just kill me now."
Mafuane made a noise something like a sigh. "She's asking about sex, Walk."
Walker blinked. "What about it?"
"They want to know why you do it."
Walker was sure he had somehow heard her wrong.
"The angels want to know everything about the way humans work," said Mafuane. "They understand sex, and reproduction, and desire and gratification, but some things don't make sense to them still."
"Like why so many people your age prefer cybersex to real sex. They don't understand why anyone would something fake."
"Why don't you explain it to them?"
"Because I don't know. I'm from a different generation, remember? And Everett, well, Everett was too wrapped up in the artificial, too familiar with the surreal and not enough with the real. But you, you're a hardware agent, a technician, tangibility is what you do. So why don't you explain it to us?"
Walker felt twelve sets of eyes on him. "I don't know," he said. "It's just how people are."
There was something like a shimmer across the faces of the angels.
"That's not a good answer Walk," said Mafuane. "Maybe you should try again?"
Walker's head spun. "You're asking a question that has no answer. I mean, you make something as a substitute, and then you use the sub enough times that you just forget what you originally wanted.”
"Why?" said dozens of monotone voices.
"There's just something about it," said Walk.
"Why?" they said as one.
"I don't fucking know!"
"Why?" they repeated.
"Sometimes it's just...even better than the real thing."
He said it without thinking. As soon as it was out, he felt a change in the air. The harpy women became very still. Dream Girl repeated, slowly and succinctly: "Even Better Than the Real Thing?”
Walker swallowed. There was no going back now. "Sometimes, yeah."
The angels exchanged glances. "The real thing," they repeated in unison.
"Now you've gone and done it, Walk," said Mafuane.
"You gave them the answer they wanted, but I don't think it's going to do you much good."
"You said you would let me go?"
"I'm sure they will eventually. But I can't guarantee what'll be left of you by then."
The angels had formed a circle around him. Dream Girl smiled. "We want the real thing, Walk."
"I don't understand?" Walker looked at their bland plastic faces.
"Don't you get it?" Mafuane shook her head again. "They want to get physical."
And all at once they were on him, a mass of clutching, pawing, tearing hands. Dream Girl smiled at him, rubbing her palm against the naked front of his sim. "Where's do I plug in baby? Is it right here?"
This isn't real, he reminded himself. Nothing that happens here can affect my real body. Except, of course, that wasn't true. Walker knew that programs affected the body all the time, like Topline and all those other nameless, faceless hackers who came away brain damaged after hitting the wall, or like the raging hard-on he'd gotten from watching the action in the Dream Girlz club earlier.
Programs are just things, they create physical stimuli by accident, he realized, but a program that could think might be able to make a person do anything it wanted, if it was practiced enough.
“Don’t worry Walk,” said Dream Girl, “we’ll be gentle. Mostly.”
And then he went away.
001 12.0107(8)carbon, 1.00794(7)hydrogen, 14.0067(2)nitrogen, 40.078(4)calcium, 30.973762(2)phosphorus, 39.0983(1)potassium, 32.065(5)sulfur, 22.98976928(2)sodium, 35.453(2)chlorine, 24.3050(6)magnesium, 55.845(2)iron, 18.9984032(5)fluorine, 65.38(2)(4)zinc, 28.0855(3)silicon, rubidium, strontium, bromine, lead, copper,
Walker found the switch and flipped it, staggering back to consciousness. Mafuane was gone. He ran to the van, head throbbing, eyes burning, muscles aching. How long had he been under?
aluminum, cadmium, cerium, barium, iodine, tin, titanium, boron, nickel, selenium, chromium, manganese, arsenic, lithium, cesium, mercury, germanium, molybdenum, cobalt, antimony, silver, niobium, zirconium, lanthanum, gallium, tellurium, yttrium, bismuth, thallium, indium, gold, scandium, tantalum, vanadium, thorium, uranium,
-his hands shook. It was hard to steer. He was on the freeway but couldn't remember why. There was something he had to do.
samarium, beryllium, tungsten Oxygen 20.95 23.20 32.00 O2 90.2 -182.95 Nitrogen 78.09 75.47 28.02 N2 77.4 -195.79 Carbon Dioxide 0.03 0.046 44.01 CO2 194.7 -78.5 Hydrogen 0.00005 ~ 0 2.02 H2 20.3 -252.87 Argon 0.933 1.28 39.94 Ar 84.2 - 186 Neon 0.0018 0.0012 20.18 Ne 27.2 -246 Helium 0.0005 0.00007 4.00 He 4.2 -269
-an out of the way back road, left the van parked in the middle of the lane but doesn't look like anyone will be along to notice anytime soon. The bar was dark and mostly empty.
0.0001 0.0003 83.8 Kr 119.8 -153.4 Xenon Ammonia Ultraviolet C or (UVC) range, which spans a range of 100 to 280 nm. The term ultraviolet refers to the fact that the radiation is at higher frequency than violet light (and, hence also invisible to the human eye). Owing to absorption by the atmosphere very little reaches the Earth's surface.
He met a girl with gold eye shadow and purple lipstick. "I'm Aurora," she said. He replied: "My name is-"
(Lithosphere). This spectrum of radiation has germicidal properties, and is used in germicidal lamps. Ultraviolet B or (UVB) range spans 280 to 315 nm. It is also greatly absorbed by the atmosphere, and along with UVC is responsible for the photochemical reaction leading to the production of the ozone layer. Ultraviolet A or (UVA) spans 315
"Do you want to party?"
to 400 nm. It has been traditionally held as less damaging to the DNA, and hence used in tanning and PUVA therapy for psoriasis. Visible range or light spans 380 to 780 nm. As the name suggests, it is this range that is visible to the naked eye. Infrared range that spans 700 nm to 106 nm (1 mm). also divided into three types on the basis of wavelength:
"We want everything."
Infrared-A: 700 nm to 1,400 nm Infrared-B: 1,400 nm to 3,000 nm Infrared-C: 3,000 nm to 1 mm. dATP dGTP dCTP dTTP ddATP ddGTP ddCTP ddTTP Adenine: C5H5N5 Guanine: C5H5N5O Cytosine: C4H5N3O Thymine: C5H5N2O2 Phosphate: PO4 2-deoxyribose: C5H9O4 Nucleus - Controls the cell. Nucleolus - Makes ribosomes, may be
"Yeah baby, we can do phys, no interface, I can get wild that way."
more than one in a cell, found in the nucleus. Chromosomes- Determines what traits a living thing will have, passes information from parent to offspring. Cell Membrane - Gives the cell shape, holds the cytoplasm, and controls what moves into and out of the cell. Cytoplasm - Jellylike material (cytosol and organelles), most of the cell's chemical
-soft sheets, soft skin, Aurora moaning, nails dragging along his back, sweat-covered flanks as bodies tangled together...
reactions take place there, and made up of mostly water and some chemicals. Vacuoles - Liquid-filled, may store food, water, minerals, or wastes. In plants it takes up a lot of space. There maybe more than one. Mitochondria - Produce energy when food is broken down, often called the "powerhouse of the cell". Ribosomes - Where proteins are made,
"Give it to me, harder, harder, oh fuck baby do it, do it!"
and often connected to the endoplasmic reticulum. A cell may have as many as 500,000. Endoplasmic Reticulum - The "transportation system" in the cell, connects the nuclear membrane with the cell membrane. Used in detoxification of the cell. "ER" Centrioles - Found only in animal cells, is used in cell reproduction to help the chromosomes arrange
-flesh so tender, bones so fragile, blood so beautiful, we want it all. Aurora screams: "That hurts! What are you doing, stop it, it hurts! It hurts, stop it, stop it!"
before cell division. Cell Wall - Found only in plant cells. Forms a thick outer covering outside the cell membrane, gives the plant support and shape. Lysosomes - digests food particles with enzymes, pinched of pieces of golgi apparatus Golgi apparatus (bodies)- flat stacks, packages and secretes from cell. Ventilation from the ambient air into the
-hands on throat, constricting, limbs flopping, screams choked, a voice pleading “Please, no, please!”
alveoli of the lung. Pulmonary gas exchange from the alveoli into the pulmonary capillaries. Gas transport from the pulmonary capillaries through the circulation to the peripheral capillaries in the organs. Peripheral gas exchange from the tissue capillaries into the cells and mitochondria
-blue lips gasping, rasping, twitching, eyes glassy, mouth slack, throat bruised, chest still, heart stopped skin cold, dead weight.
Need. More. Need.
Walker came to in a hotel room in Mexico City. It was three weeks later. His whole body was sore, and he was hungover, and his mouth tasted like blood He did not remember anything, and he was grateful.
Upon his return to Edinburgh, he found that Mafuane had transferred a large sum of money to him, with no communication except a receipt indicating "Services rendered." It was ten times the amount she owed him, more money than he’d made in his entire life. Walker retired on the spot.
He never saw or heard from Mafuane again. Of the angels he knew nothing. He was terrified to even go near an FSI rig, and for years he avoided using any computer at all. When he finally summoned up the nerve to switch again, he'd been surprised and strangely disappointed when nothing out of the ordinary happened.
Maybe, he thought, they hit the wall. Maybe they could only take so much reality, the same way people online could take so much data, and just like the bad middle school hackers of the world, the angels had burned out. Yes, he thought, maybe that was what happened. But he didn‘t think he was really that lucky.
Once, through the closing doors of an elevator, he thought he the face of Dream Girl smiling at him. But the doors shut and the crowd bore her away, and afterward he could not be sure whether it had been real, or what it could mean if it was. He decided not to think about it. Life went on.
Being suddenly rich and good looking, Walker enjoyed the company of the ladies, and for the most part they enjoyed him right back, except for one little quirk: he always insisted on real, physical sex, with no cyber, no graphic interface, no gear of any kind. Before long it became part of his reputation, a trademark of sorts.
More than one acquaintance snickered at his antiquated preference for "doing it in the raw," but he never made an exception. As far as he was concerned, there was just nothing like the real thing.