Everywhere After All
by Brian Trent
|part 1 of 3|
Sometimes he ran into himself, and that was awkward. The whole point of the Diaspora was to eventually run into yourself, interface, and move on older and wiser. Like last week, he had been in a Lisbon bar with a bunch of college students, and he had talked his way into their circle, making them laugh, getting the right looks from some of the girls, and then he went over to the bar and ordered a round of Midori sours, and the bartender laughed.
“Can’t be too many codeworms who drink Midori in Portugal,” the bartender said. For a hellish second Leet panicked that the bartender was a codecop, and his heart squeezed a terrified spasm, legs coiled for a dash out of the bar. Then the bartender — tall, muscular, and blonde like some hybrid of Long Beach toolbox and Hitler youth — laughed again and said, “Squid change colors to show their mood.”
It was one of the phrases. Leet stared at the bartender, suspecting treachery. Leet had black hair and blue eyes, at least while in Portugal. Blue eyes made him stand out here. To the bartender he said, “Turn your dinner plates on the one with big tits.” And the bartender recognized this other phrase — a giant squid’s eyes are as big as dinner plates — and he gazed past Leet’s shoulder to the voluptuous girl at the table watching them.
“Can’t tell who she’s staring at,” the bartender remarked, and that was how they all ended up back at her place — three girls, and two different versions of Leet. He had to remind himself that technically, it’s a foursome. Just as if the girls had wanted him to get it on with the bartender, it would fundamentally be masturbation.
And by the end of that night, he and his bartender self have shaken hands to interface. Eight mysterious years of life as a Lisbon bartender came flooding into Leet, and he returned the courtesy by coughing up his own experiences as a modern-day party nomad who’d been making his way across Asia and Europe. They’re both older and wiser.
Of course, that was last week and he wouldn’t expect it to happen again so soon. The whole Lisbon episode made him want to change locations sooner rather than later, so he had gone to Athens. A bunch of codeworms were supposed to meet there in July anyway, to share security upgrades. Friggin’ Vector was cracking down hardcore.
More hardcore than usual, at least.
In the shell of a white-haired woman about fourteen years ago, he had given a speech to the U.N. Congress about the inherent challenge of codeworm life. Life’s natural impulse was to spread out. That was simply what codeworms were doing. They lived in the nets, downloaded into shells. Yes, taking a shell without paying for it was theft, but they were forced into being thieves since Congress was too cowardly to rule on the legal status of codeworms. Without Constitutional protections, codeworms wouldn’t dare download into a legally-purchased shell. The money transaction would send a huge blip to codeworm enemies — namely, most governments and corporate thug Vector Nanonics — and then your new shell would be tracked. Then they’d come for you.
Advertising one’s multiple existences was suicide... or even genocide, depending on your perspective.
So in the shell of an old woman, Leet had driven home after his Congressional appearance through a forceful rain, intent on a bath, drink, and discarding the white-haired body for a new transfer. Instead, four armed dudes had been waiting for him inside his apartment. Tasered him. He woke up in their sedan. Tasered again. Woke up in a detention center, tied to a metal chair, his hands strapped flat to the desk in front of him.
A short, swarthy, sinister-looking fellow was sitting across from him. Kind of guy who looked born angry: too much red in his cheeks. Leet could practically see the high-blood-pressure diagnosis from where he sat.
“Welcome back,” the guy snarled. “Had yourself a nice rest there. Didn’t know codeworms needed so much rest.”
Leet didn’t say anything. He didn’t tell the guy that the reason he was “resting” so much had little to do with being tasered. If you taser a codeworm, they black out the way your computer does when rebooting. But once rebooted, he pretended to be asleep so he could turn off a few programs, like muting his pain receptors.
“Gotta ask you about a hundred questions,” the interrogator hissed. “We can get through all of them in a day, or we can drag this out for as long as it takes, understand?”
“You don’t have to shout,” Leet replied.
The angry guy snapped his fingers, and someone else wheeled over a metal box full of pliers, razors, a yellow blowtorch, and electro-torture devices.
“What kind of questions do you have for me?” Leet asked, still in the shell of an old woman.
“Who are the other codeworms? How many of you are there? How long it takes for you to download? That sort of thing.”
“You could have saved us both a lot of trouble by just asking me back at my apartment.”
He filtered his voice through one of the myriad audiofiles he kept. “I ain’t telling you nothin’, see? You coppers got nothin’ on me! You dirty rats ain’t gonna learn nothin’!”
The man lifted a pair of pliers. He fastened it around one of Leet’s fingernails.
“Whoa, wait!” Leet cried. “I just told you I wasn’t going to cooperate. You don’t have to do that to my —”
He never felt the fingernail being ripped off. His hand was tugged hard, and then he saw the pale nail in the pliers’ teeth. It looked like a piece of plastic, red at one end.
“Ouch!” Leet said. “Man! That almost hurt!”
The pliers were put away in favor of slender metal stakes, which the guy proceeded to slip under Leet’s remaining fingernails.
Leet screamed... for a few seconds. Then he wiggled his fingers.
“I’m Freddy Krueger! Can you do the other hand now?”
This went on for four days, until Leet decided he’d recorded enough footage of this that he could die in peace. They’d already tried unsuccessfully to hack him, and so they wheeled his body into another part of the lab where, believing he was dead, they planned for a full body autopsy/download.
The thing is, most people don’t strap down a corpse, so as soon as Leet was left unguarded, he just walked out of the facility, grabbed a bus downtown, and got off at the nearest cybercafé. He downloaded himself into the web and left behind a mutilated grandmotherly body.
But he did take time to send the footage he recorded, along with some seamless editing, to every news station in the world. The global population shrieked and roared at images of an old woman being tortured for four days by an ugly little man. Within a week, Vector filed for bankruptcy due to the two-punch combo of devalued stocks and global boycott. Oh, and the death threats.
So fourteen years after the torture episode, and a week after Lisbon, Leet found himself lying low in a Greek college town. He blended in easily — one of his other selves had gotten obsessed by Greek history and culture, and a mutual handshake transferred this to him, language and all.
The first few days of his arrival, Leet had walked around town and found himself gravitating to the museums and old churches and still-extant ruins.
Another dark, rainy evening.
Leet emerged from a cliff-side restaurant, the sweet tang of local wine burning his lips. The rain drenched him as he splashed down the street toward his waterfront apartment, glancing at the harbor as he went.
A cruise ship was docked there. As he looked, it sounded its horn almost in greeting. Glistening, dark heads moved like wet beetles onto the boarding platform. Tourists, returning from this little stopover for another few days at sea.
Leet breathed deeply of the rain as he jogged. The smell had the same effect on him every time, no matter where in the world he went. Scientists said smell was linked to memory from those ancient days when scurrying rodents — champion life-form of the mammalian kingdom when the world was overrun by giant lizards — used their noses to sniff out their world.
For Leet, the smell of rain took him back to his childhood in Derry, when he had learned to project on his father’s old T-byte HVD sims. The headset had been too big for his skull, forcing him to clutch it with both hands. He made his first thinkflicks right there, in that moldy box-cluttered attic. Imagination projected directly onto the Capture Drive. Later, he would edit and shape the mass of colorful scenes.
Even with that illicit baptism in Dad’s house, it still took him ten years to grasp the real potential.
Much of the ignorant public persisted in thinking that Capture Drives snagged images straight from the synapses. While that was true, it was an anemic appreciation for what synaptic downloads could accomplish. With a strong enough Drive, you could project a perfect copy of yourself into the HVD. Images, memories, dreams, emotions, dislikes, sexual turn-ons. Yourself in digital.
Long ago a Cherokee brave had killed a white man for snapping his picture, because he believed his soul had been stolen. Adjusted for a few hundred years, the old Indian had been right.
The cruise ship blared its horn again. Leet almost jogged past it before he caught its name, emblazoned in black serif font: MILLIONS OF YEARS.
Ah-ha! His sneakers splashed to a halt in a greasy puddle.
Leet joined the crowd of returning tourists. Two cruise staff were standing by the vessel, smiling pleasantly at the men and women. The smiles faltered as Leet came into view.
“I was just wondering...” he started, knowing there was no point in trying to bluff. All passengers would be registered to the crew’s eye-lenses. Intruders probably showed up with huge red slashes through their faces.
“Registered passengers only,” one woman said. “I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to leave the boarding platform. If you like, we can email you a full brochure.”
Leet gazed past her shoulder to the ship’s name again. “Can you tell me if this ship is named after the Egyptian sun-god’s chariot? A good friend of mine used to be wild about stuff like that.”
“I’m sorry, sir. If you wouldn’t mind—”
“Her name was Rita Simoes.”
The woman stopped, cocked her head. “And who would you be?”
Leet felt his mouth run dry with nervous energy. “Um... she’d know me from her Vancouver college days.”
“Leet?” the woman said, and looked to the three other staff members.
A nearby man added, “Is that you?”
“Leet!” the other two men said excitedly.
The entire cruise ship, it turned out, was Rita Simoes. All the staff members were codeworms with her program. The vessel acted as a sort of motherboard to which all the Ritas would go, like bees returning to the hive, with morsels of experience to download into the superbrain Rita collective.
Later, Leet sat in the pilot’s cabin with an attractive Rita shell as company. “I like what you’ve done with yourself.”
Rita flashed him a lascivious smile. Back in college, she had been a middle-aged plump professor. This version was a highly idealized version of that — a snake-like poise to her slender, honey-skinned body. Very Mediterranean. “I wouldn’t have recognized you either! How have you been, Leet? Still on walkabout?”
“Staying low. But you’ve set a new standard.”
“I keep in plain sight but stay mobile. Passengers deposit their money into the company, which my limbs access when they want shore leave. No one suspects me.”
“What if you spring a leak?”
She laughed. “Who says there’s not a fleet of me?”
Leet nodded and sipped his drink, trying to process this. He had never heard a codeworm refer to her extra selves as “limbs.” But then, Rita was one of the first codeworms ever. A handful of geniuses had realized the potential in Capture Drives in the early days, and those people became mentors to the burgeoning codeworm culture. Rita was basically a bodhisattva.
* * *
Copyright © 2010 by Brian Trent