This is the first aggregated update of my 365 Sentences project “Information sickness”, wherein I write a story over the course of a year, one sentence a day. Following this entry, collected updates will be posted weekly (or as close to weekly as I can manager or remember to do). If you prefer, you can read along daily as the story progresses. This update covers the days of October 27 to November 17, 2011.
In the city of New Chance the heat of the fading day sizzled unrelenting in the darkening streets, but in a tiny modular apartment near the edge of town, just on the bad side of the metro-slum boundary, a man lay supine on an old bead-filled futon, eyes shifting blindly in a REM-like flurry, fingers twitching spiderlike between moments of stillness, oblivious to both the heat outside and the ice-cold air conditioning for which he paid several hundred rubals a month. On the output side of his projected-image eyecaps, the world neural net rapid-fired data at him from several sources at once: an awful old-world porno a friend had sent for laughs ran mostly forgotten in the background, overlaid with incoming mail, forum messages, and IM’s, and a connection to a server box in a corporate building on the other side of the planet through which he currently paged in search of half a dozen items listed in a sidebar in his visual workspace.
A priority message appeared suddenly, blinking garish red across the center of the active window, and he spat a short string of annoyed invective at his current (and only) client, who was asking for the fourth time in three hours if he had the docs yet. “Priority Reply:” he said through clenched teeth into the silence of the room, “Still working, and four interruptions is roughly twelve extra minutes worth of your money at the contract rate, Banks.” He awaited a reply for a count of ten, and when none came, returned to the search, fingers flying again as he dug through the unfamiliar system.
For what this corporate no-name was paying him, he had expected the job to be considerably more…exciting than it had turned out to be, but so far he’d come up against no resistance from either the corpsys or any counter hackers. All seemed quiet on the home front. Of course, even a novice should know that’s the first sign that something’s not right — should being the operative word.
It may sound odd to suggest one can be blindsided by something as simple as cigarette smoke, but when you’re in the digital middle-of-nowhere, minding your own business (or someone else’s, as the case may be) and not expecting the hyper-real olfactory stimulation of virtual smoke in your face, it’s likely to do just that when it hits. And suddenly, without even the opportunity to activate a single security mechanism on his personal headspace, he was completely locked down with only sensory input to keep him company, effectively frozen and forced to watch while the new entity interposed itself between him and his workspace, thumbing lazily through the active items, and tossing them away, the data fizzling into corrupted bits as it leaves dextrous black, clawed fingers.
He had seen some fancy avatar work before, but most people didn’t bother with more than off the shelf uncanny valley-triggering humanoids or anime characters (mundanes), or annoying cartoons, porn screenshots, or suspiciously innocuous looking adorable baby animals (hackers and other underbelly ilk). This branch-horned, snake-bodied creature that sat up on its haunches with its back to him? — that was detailed enough that his brain tripped a little over the impossibility of it; the minutely rendered scales; the individual hairs on its lion-maned head; the heavy, grooved claws it used as extensions of its already long digits. He couldn’t be sure he’d seen anything that looked so terrifyingly real and alive even in reality before.
The entity flipped one long ear back in his direction, giving the distinct impression, as it replied to his fears in an eerie, synthesized polyphonic voice, that with just the attention of that small appendage, the thoughts had been plucked from behind his internal firewall as easily as one might pick up an apple. “It has taken many years to perfect it to this degree. You should have seen it when I was just a wee newb, using static pictures of cheesy long statues and old paintings.” The sinuous black figure went silent again, and unnervingly still as it paused over the list of files he’d been attempting to retrieve. It spawned a safe window abruptly, bordered in swirling, eye-bleeding orange, and in moments had retrieved the files for which he’d been scouring the unfamiliar system and digging through security and permissions for the last three hours. The moment the icon for the final file hit the sandbox its border flashed in warning, red and orange alternating rapidly.
“So…any idea who your contractor is working for?” it continued finally, still in a conversational tone, though its heavy brow was creased when it turned its head to look over its shoulder at him with one huge, wild-looking black eye.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snarled, finally able to speak, though in truth, he didn’t know anything about the contractor aside from his name, and that he was apparently very well funded. And since all communication thus far had taken place via text, even the short, balding, rotund corpse with the high-pitched, nasal voice was purely a construct of his imagination and his irritation at being pestered while he was working.