Friday, 26 August 2016

3. Red Light District - Basement Level 12


Like literally.

People out in the complete open were engaging in such rabid, explicit frottage that there was barely any significant difference between it and actual intercourse. One guy whose vintage Game of Thrones t-shirt clung so tightly to his chest that it looked like it would spontaneously rip into confetti at any second, was expertly grinding his ass against a pimped up Robogirl, unleashing insane body-rolls that synchronised perfectly to the doof doof doof of the track that was blasting out of invisible speakers. The song was Desire, the latest No1 dance anthem sung by oversexualised Polish-Chinese pop star Katarzyna Zheng. I only knew this because Zheng's new music videos were a pandemic point of discussion and analysis within the Flux community. Unlike most of the world's current pop stars, Zheng was actually human, not just a holographic doll whose every curve and breathy whisper had been electronically designed and produced by big South Korean record label companies. These companies have, by the way, come under increasing scrutiny for its employment of 3D programmers in slave-wage conditions. Thus, in her electronically unadulterated position, Zheng's tactile good looks and genuine vocal talent cemented her a place as the darling of the world's hologram-dominated music industry. Though the production quality of her music wasn't particularly above and beyond those of other holographic pop idols, she still was, in the words of adoring fans on the Flux and most of the international commentariat, 'the human salvation music needs', 'the long-awaited revival of classic pop', 'the iconoclastic sex icon'.

I turned to look at Milo152. He still couldn't wipe the amusement off his face.
"Surely, you will have gotten used to these scenes on the Flux," he shouted at me over the music, his words barely registering. I didn't bother answering, but mindfully earmarked this occasion as the first time in my life I had seen mass musically synchronised dry-humping.

As we walked, the crowd around us seemed to evolve from Rn'B clubbers to Gay Pride Parade. Soon, we were bumping shoulders with men wearing nothing but pink feather boas tied strategically around their -

"Johnson!" yelled Milo152. I jumped, startled. "Oi, Johnson!" He started flailing his hands wildly over his head, signalling to someone that seemed to be coming from the direction of a neon-lit peep show lane. This was indeed the case, and the man named Johnson was surprisingly, a terribly overweight slavic man with a disfigured face. No, that wasn't right. He face had been disfigured at some point, but now it was 'fixed' - by a somewhat gratuitous installation of flashy bionic replacements. The right side of his face had been subject to some special metallic skin graft that blended right into his epidermis, which impressively, also displayed some sort of moving tattoo design. The right eye was red and mechanical - an illegally built-in infrared scanner. He could definitely see everyone 100 percent naked right now, which was probably two percent more than the nakedness already on display. I immediately realised,  however, that 'everyone' now included me.

Milo152 and I walked over to the slightly quieter corner where Johnson was looming. The man looked me up and down without a twitch. Well, I wasn't sure if that was something his face could still do.

"Iz this her?" Johnson spat, with an indecipherable continental accent.
"Yeah," said Milo152, who shot me a friendly reassuring look to signal 'no-I'm-not-human-trafficking-you-to-some-fat-disgusting-looking-Bulgarian-pimp'. "She'll be able to help you."

"Uh, 'help him'?" I paused, analysing their faces. "What... do you mean?"

Johnson grimaced. "Well," Milo152 began calmly, " I mentioned on the Flux that I needed you to do something a bit... unconventional. Something I think you've probably never attempted before. That's why I risked it all by asking you to meet me in person."

I looked at Milo152. I looked at Johnson. I looked at Milo152. 

"Uh no. I... not that," said Milo152 a bit embarrassedly. Then he took a deep breath, switching his gaze to his mysterious counterpart.

"I need you. To hack him."

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

2. Underground City

We arrived at Basement Level 1, which was the most benign, family-friendly strata in the huge complex that was Underground City. During the day, school-kids would come to frequent the bustling food stalls and shop for whatever was the latest in trid mods and remote controllable gadgets - mostly racing drones and BattleMechs, both of which constitute hugely overrated competitive industries. It's a popular place for some classic father-son bonding sessions. There were multiple indoor racing and mech battling stadiums for hire, as well as a litany of arcade game stops and anime/manga stores.

I always thought that B1 would be the same at night. You know, a cool place full of fun gizmos where people could hold racing events, trip out their Mechs, and throttle the shit out of each other's expensive toys. Apparently, that's not all that happens in B1.

Around the corner of a deliciously fragrant takoyaki stall stood a bunch of glaringly bright teens whose hairstyles looked like they were in the midst of projectile vomiting rainbows into the air. I probably would have done just that if I had listened to one more second of the conversation between one smoochy couple.

"But babe," said the barely 16 year old girl in a whiny baby voice. "I thought tonight was just gonna be us. You and me. For some special private times." She started torturing him with the soft caress of her fingertip over his budding pea-sized pectorals.
"Aww sweetie," the guy giggled, "I promised the boys I'd take them to Sam's drone party behind Joe's Pizzas. But how about later...I'll show you my private drone...." he slowed, a lascivious smile rippling through his equally creepy, bee-stung lips.

Milo152 led me past the wildly hormonal group, but not without turning back, catching my disgusted countenance and giving me a thoroughly amused look.
"You don't go out much, do you?" he asked, but it came off as more a statement.
This time, I sarcastically returned his smile. "No, I'm a misanthropic troglodyte-cum-cybercriminal. I don't leave my computer if I don't have to. This..." I looked around at what would otherwise be a quotidian setting for everyone else, "is an adventure for me".
"This is an adventure?" he laughed, as we continued walking past rows and rows of Asian snack stalls. There were potato and cheese salads. Spicy Taiwanese chicken pop corn. Kebabs. Fried soft-shell crab. I couldn't remember the last time my olfactory senses had been besieged so pleasantly. I had gotten too used to the wet, dank, smoky smell of my rotting apartment back in Nunnek, which is not the nicest neighbourhood to live in.

We continued trodding forward through the masses that have come out for the Saturday night markets, weaving in and out of the boisterous crowds like two lone fish that have deviated from the school. For the first time, I noticed that though Milo152 looked Asian, he didn't have any epicanthic folds around his eyes. And he had a smattering of freckles on his left cheek. Perhaps he was half-Asian. Well, most people are half-something these days. Half-Chinese. Half-Spanish or Russian. Half-bionic. I started to wonder whether he would have gotten his face cosmetically altered, not so much for the aesthetic benefits but to help him become more efficient at his drug-dealing business. Who knows. Maybe he's the sort of guy who gets his face tweaked once every couple of weeks as a pre-emptive security measure.

"Hm, so I hope you're okay with where we're going then."
"Where are we going then?" I said, my tone slightly on-edge.
"Uhhh. Well. You'll see soon enough."
We rounded a corner, and there was another set of stairs.
"Let's catch the elevator instead," he said, turning left and into a darkish laneway. We were at one of the edges of B1, where the shops had dwindled to just a few. I hadn't realised we had walked that far already. In fact, the non-existence of foot traffic here made me feel weird.
"You okay?" he said. I began to realise that I was probably being a bit too obvious with my facial expressions, and it was revealing everything he shouldn't know about how I was feeling right now. Which was basically 'why-did-I-agree-to-this' and 'I-don't-want-to-get-stabbed-or-raped-tonight', although I was pretty sure Milo152 was not the stabby type or the rapey type.

There was a 'ding' sound and two metal doors slid open from an unassuming soot-covered wall. "Yeah, I'm fine," I lied.
He looked at me earnestly for a few brief seconds, as if not knowing what to say. Then he laughed out loud as we stepped in. His hand hovered over the elevator pad, then he pressed for the very bottom level - Basement Level 12.

It took me a moment to remember. All I could muster in the incredibly short five seconds we had in the elevator was "wait..."
Then the doors slid open once again. Deafening oriental pop beats hit my face like a sledgehammer. Half-naked girls and guys strutted around in 9 inch stilettos, shaking their flashing LED bras, panties and party hats into my line of sight. Dancing robo-girls with plastic moulded F-cup breasts spun around like mirror balls on elevated platforms. A holographic video of a young Scarlett Johansson warapped in a tight red mini-dress blew me a kiss.

My eyes bulged slightly.
Milo152 laughed.
"Welcome to B12 - the Red Light District."

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

1. Central Station

Standing outside the staircase leading down to central station, I glanced at my watch for the second time. 11.46pm. A slew of rain drops quickly smothered the dim blue screen. I shoved my hands back into my pockets, squeezing the heat packs that I had judiciously prepared before I left my apartment. He's late. 

Staring at the people walking by central station, it was interesting to see that some were clearly heading home, and for others, the night was just getting started. The latter demographic was young, noisy and probably comprising more than a few underage kids. They were all dressed in fashionable electroluminescent jackets and shoes that glowed iridescently like the lights that festooned Underground City - a neon maze of the hippest bars and karaoke outlets. Most were also chatting into their head-mounted trid-devices, which I assumed would be them hitting up a friend about which dodgy underground pub they should rendezvous. Yeah, this was Saturday night out on the town.

The more I waited among the party crowd and let myself become drenched in the city's pollutant rain, the more I became desperate for a cigarette. My brain had been itching for a hit all morning, but now it was clawing desperately at the fringes of my self-control, exacerbated by the anxiety of having to meet him in person for the first time. And well, by being outdoors, which itself is a lifetime feat.

Milo152 was his username on the Flux. A username like that was simple, non-revealing and devoid of character. Usually, you get cliched names like Omniscent_Shadow, Llama-hunter or even worse, an alliteration like Huge Hurricane Hancock, which tends to reflect much of the pubescent personality that dominates the threads. Milo152, was by that comparison, a perfectly mature adult. Boring, even. Throughout our encounters on the Flux, he never interrogated me about my age or gender, or prodded me about becoming his ally on High Fortress. He didn't even ask to fuck after I intentionally let slip I was, in fact, a female. Yeah, our relationship was pure business. He provided the drugs I needed to fuel my night-habits, and in exchange, I mined him whatever data he wanted. A simple and reliable quid pro quo.

Of course, these transactions weren't exactly lawful, which is why we've always kept our communications limited to the Flux, where it would be near impossible for any cops or narcs to trace our trails. This was because no trails existed on the Flux. All posts, photos, trideos and chats are wiped every 4 hours. Users don't need to make accounts either. It's all a completely liberal space, for some astoundingly illicit activities. And no-one can shut the Flux down. No one probably knows how to, except for the person who made it.


I whirled around. "Milo152?"

He nodded. The guy was tall, skinny, Asian, and grinning broadly from ear to ear. I didn't return the smile. In fact, I was quite taken aback by his amicable disposition. After all, we were both still strangers to each other, with no other ties than those that were strictly criminal.

"Sorry for making you wait. I'll tell you the good news later. For now, let's head over to somewhere where we can talk," he said, ignoring my momentary expression of 'what in the world am I dealing with here'. "I know a place in Underground City. It's a rare pocket of tranquility, if you don't mind the sort of people that come and go," he winked.

He started walking off in the direction of central station, down the winding staircase. I followed without another word, wondering why I agreed to a 'date' with my drug dealer in the first place.