Saturday 2014-07-19 20:46 -07:00

from the first-installment-first-draft dept.

“Eee!” went the face in the box.

Lada shuddered and pressed harder on the accel panel, even though she knew it was capacitative, the box beside her thumping and twisting like the living thing it contained. The e-car’s servos pleaded nolo contendre and Lada ground her teeth in mechanical sympathy. By now, the face’s original owner would be waiking up; making screams of his own.

The tendrils on the face, where it had attached to the titanium faceplate of the cyborg’s skull, were throwing themselves against the inside of the lid of the mercifully hermetic package, searching for nerve tabs and a dripline.

Saying you could make money in the flesh trade is like saying Feynman made a bomb — it missed the horror and sexuality of it. Without Lada, the thing in the box would die; but she was also the one who’d taken it, who’d coaxed it, with drugs and nanomol, from its previous occupant, and it probably knew who was to blame for its current straits. Lada had of course watched the adverts just like everyone else; officially, Faces weren’t sentient, just bits of meat cleverly welded to its opposite — fake flesh cut and tended and nurtured like a repulsive bonsai.

But Lada also knew the most expensive ones weren’t synthetic. They were basically bits of dead people, or people so poor they may as well be, selling themselves to the worst sort of AI, who would of course gladly give the donor an inexpensive BeautyMask as part of the payoff. Lada thought of their smooth, identical faces, perfect cheekbones smudged with ash and hollow in the fireshadow from one of the trampcamps. She shuddered again, and bit down hard on her own lower lip.

The box fell silent, spasmed once, twice, and was still. It would be entereing sleepmode, trying to keep itself alive as long as possible. Lada relaxed, despite herself. She’d told the Grid she’d be working on a Cultural Project for the Library’s birthday. The Library approved of celebrations of ‘human heritage and ancestry’ – how could it not, given its programming?

They’d do it just like every year. Some vet would stand up and give a talk about Iraq or Pakistan and, over the clicking and whining of their twenty-year-old enhancements, solemnly declare these to be better days. Then they’d play ‘Cultures of the World’, the medley of the old national anthems that passed as a de-facto global one. Then a moment of silence, for all those lost to human aggression, and finally — if you’d managed to stay awake — some dance numbers. About a third of the dancers were always enhanced, and another third neat. The final third would be AI-piloted postproduction synths woven into the feed at the last moment by the Library himself. The message, as ever, was coexistence.

Lada knew all about coexistence. She had a box of it beside her. She knew which side had her sympathies.

“Fucking humans,” she thought, tossing her hair just enough to allow the breeze from the AC to smooth it out. She allowed herself, on strictly practical grounds, another infinitesimal of calm, and wished that this e-car had real windows, the kind that opened. She put it in selfdrive and looked around.

They were going about sixty klicks, the summer dusk interacting limpidly with the flickering adverts on the dash. On either side, the rolling fields of the local Semi Autonomous Zone. She hated being driven. Even ten years ago, back when she was back in skillschool, many diehards still insisted on driving themselves, and Lada and taught herself to do likewise. But times were now such that that sort of organicism raised eyebrows and flags. And if Lada had wanted to raise flags, she would have taken her chopper, an old \’16 knucklehead that slurped actual gasoline — as ridiculous a statement as a feather quill, or her book collection for that matter, and especially conspicuous for someone in her trade.

Then again, so was everything else.

AIs and the Enhanced all had a problem. The same technologies that made humanity manageable – surveillance, prediction, ‘motivation sculpting’ – all these technologies worked pretty good against them as well. Officially, AIs and the Enhanced were supposedly all in harmony with one another, perfect minds all thinking alike. But in practice, there were battles for turf and prestige. “Game-theoretic compulsive violence,” they called it, usually as depradation. But Lada knew a good old-fashioned pissing contest when she saw one, and she knew how to turn a few kWh-credits when the opportunity arose.

When AIs fought played hardball with each other, they did it through her, and her colleagues. They needed humans – and not just any humans. They needed people that for whatever reason had no enhancements whatsoever. Even the most basic earbead transceiver still had an IPv6 stack and leaked information so loud that only the dumbest AIs, the thermostats and dishwashers, might fail to infer what was being thought, or said, or done. Even the most purelaine humanist, the kind with a Noam Chomsky poster and a kitchy UN Declaration of the Rights of Man as their holoscreen background – the kind of extremist phobe that wouldn’t even look an Enhanced in the eye — would at least have one such inane device, jabbering away, betraying their every move to any AI with an IPv6 address. (So, everyone.)

This meant that if you were a player, and if the game was to be played right and well, you needed a skinshade; someone like Lada. Or several Ladas.

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