The cold steel of the handgun was stuffed uncomfortably down the front of my pants. As I tore out into the street and hit the highway, leaving behind the decrepit old-world, I couldn’t block it from the forefront of my perception. Never in my life had I held something this illegal.
And I was deeply happy.
Settled in the world around me was a different perception and focus. I had the long ride back into the oceanic districts to think. And my eyes saw anew.
My cognitive miasma had passed behind me with the veil.
Something Michael had shown me, all the trappings in my head. Embedded in my neural computer interface were subroutines. One of which had been recording memories during moments of high activity. I had shut them down with only a thought.
The implications were terrifying. But worse had been not knowing. Shouldn’t I have known all along? The state of total surveillance had long passed beyond suspicion and into total banality.
So much more was becoming clear. Dag must have been avoiding the system entirely, staying offline, unplugged. Had to keep Smiler out of his head.
But there was more that could be done. Confusion was finally tinged with something else.
I screamed into the wind as it ripped by, anger elated.
Mine was the worst kind of clever stupidity. The floor had fallen out on me and I was ready to take the first, worst idea which came.
I had reached the parking garage of the mall. I hadn’t been in this way before. In the last few years, it had been the same without exception. I took the train. There and back. My weekdays marched on, and this was the first time I had ever allowed myself to recognize that. It was all hopeless.
As I dismounted my bike and watched the machine stow it away, my gaze scanned the barren space. Still, my mind was on the gun.
Like a kid shoplifting for the first time, there was that terror and anxiety I couldn’t dispel. I was going to fuck it up, I thought.
Body language algorithms in the cameras. You’re dead.
Paranoia began to rise. Looking ahead to where the grey concrete let onto carpet and foot traffic and music, and behind to darkening streets, I was stuck in uncertainty. I had known how dangerous this would be, though.
Making my decision, I had to do something else for the very first time today.
Go to work on the weekend.
It was a short jog down and around the bend. Three holographic salespersons tried to grab my attention along the way. I just had to look forward. God, I knew I was going to fuck it up. I could feel the eyes on me.
Smile for the camera.
I had to put myself in my regular headspace. Forget about the gun.
Thinking didn’t help. What did I feel?
You’re miserable. You’re bored. You feel like you’re in the wrong place. Always forgetting something. Always only looking forward to forgetting even that.
All this only served to make me angrier.
Hush now, Child.
I shook my head. The store was just a bit further. I could do this.
When I rounded the corner I saw Miss Fong sitting in my spot, manning the counter, head tilted down like the natural human posture. She jumped in the next moment when Jerry suddenly perked up. “Greetings, General!” he saluted, bubblegun in hand.
I put on a fake smile.
“Fuck are you doing?” Fong shouted from where she sat. “No extra hours!”
I nodded and gave her a thumbs up. I could feel myself beginning to sweat. “It’s all good,” I said. “No worries!”
Where he was propped up on his table Jerry sat tall. I looked around for the stepping stool I would need.
“No worries,” I whispered under my breath, willing Miss Fong not to get up.
As I placed the stool and tools I would need down, she did exactly that. My metal arm rattled with the tools in hand. I quickly started to work on Jerry’s neck.
“What are you doing, boy?!” She demanded, coming around beside me.
“I was thinking…” I lead in with nowhere to go. I stopped for a moment, tools in hand, sweat on my brow, meeting her furious fixation on me. “It’d be really profitable,” I told her, forcing myself to turn away. Work faster. “I don’t mind, you know?”
“No! I don’t fucking know!” Her frustration was rising.
“The, uh, I think I figured out how we can sell the software.” Half truth.
“You what?” Her temper dropped.
She knew what it meant if I could scalp military-grade robotics software and duplicate it. People had to either grow their AI from scratch or steal it. The slightest edge was in high demand. Even though it was technically a century old.
“Waaaaait…” She slammed a fist on my back. “Liar!”
The head popped off. “Yeah, if I could bypass the anti-replication in pre-war era robotics software I probably wouldn’t be working for you, would I? Oh, hell,” I hefted it off.
I stepped down and she shoved me in the chest. Small as she was, it was nothing. But the cat put out a massive racket, clawing at my skin.
The head in my arms, hissing cat in my shirt, there was only the hateful stare we shared. For once I returned it to her in full, clenching my teeth in pain.
“Jerry and I are going now.”
She started to scream at me, lapsing into Mandarin. I held my breath and passed by the gate of the shop without a shock. I had long ago set the security to allow me to remove whatever I wanted, for those days I brought work home.
It was an awkward fast walk to the exit, as much as possible without looking suspicious. Fong’s elderly legs couldn’t keep up and in the noise of the mall, her shouts were buried.
My anxiety had gone. Only jitters and anger remained.
Fuck this place. It had been far too long coming.
A head, a gun, the cat and I had work to do. Urgent and important.
Fell deeds awaited.