Updated: Nov 9, 2021
Michael K Laidlaw About 4 250 words #406 3524 31st NW
Calgary, Canada T2L 2A5
I love my work. I hate my work.
'Lethe...?' I nod concern. Lethe is a slaveintelligence: an aspect of the logicsky of my work Artificial Sentience Complex. As always, I speak to it in a sense-simulation construct; we are in a rooftop cafe in Old Old London, before the end of the War of the Drowning Islands.
'Sir,' bows its simulated dreambody. It will not meet my gaze.
'Your eyes are leaking,' I say.
It is a strong body, a protective, muscular husk. Its face is mine. Tears wash glassy over its reddened face. It breathes its distress: emotional pain is presented for me. I have complete control of my own features.
It is never a Study, a Flextime, a Career alone: it is all these every moment. It is a Mission. I work in a section, in a firm, in NNSY- Nuevo New Scotland Yard- a metacorp of Citypol; my work has no easily communicable legend, so those who have reason to refer to our group name us Closers. This simplifies a complex dynamic. This refers to our tasks and their place in the process of emotional absorption: first denial, then rage, then understanding and acceptance, finally closure. This basic pattern is applicable to many traumas that unbalance our psychic worlds.
'I concept you are blocked by Zero Zero Four Three Two,' Maya relays.
I admit a shrug. I focus on brushed aluminum walls of her workplace node.
'I wonder if I should... transfer you to a new case. I wonder if I should insist you downtime,' she sighs. 'When was your last vacation?'
I wait. She knows.
'You offer no sense of where you would go. You will follow my directives, yes?'
'I always do.'
'I am never wrong?' she smiles. She is swiveled to watch out the windowall, as if searching a pattern in airyatchs and airships and microkites circling over shadowed mountains of ziggurats of NuevoParis and NuevoHongKong, from here, Oranje City, the quarter her node rests in NuevoAmsterdam. She is not watching me with borneyes, so doubtless senses her ASC scanning me.
'I do not concept burnout, or downtime required,' I say.
She swivels to face me.
'I just need... time,' I insist.
'You have all the CLs?'
'Zero Zero Four Three Two is a sensitive case, it has been a season we have worked on it, there are expectations of completion. There are many facets to consider, do you require further resources- assistants, theorists, anything?'
'I need time.'
She purses her lips in an expression of concern. She nods.
I work, in body, on level ninety-nine on the ziggurat of NuevoLondon. I live, in body, even nearer to Flood Zone, where levels, material simulations of drowned Old Old London decay into interstitial ‘hoods. An area as if zig nodes of Crystalline Lattices, not as far inside the zigs as Subway Territories, an area yet to be appropriated by bohos then gentrified into an overcurrent version of the Villages. My loft is affordable this season, but not for much longer. I can hear guided tours for turista, hear reef experiments and archaeological searches; smell tidal flats, garbage toxins, on season when winds come in from New Jersey Bay.
I wake to fading memories, holographic towers of Old Old Manhattan dissolving in sunrise...
Waking, alone, never on Worldnet, this is music I watch: Pain Revolution,Voidhead Blues. Electric Sheep, Heaven Sent. Arjuna Zero, Buy Her a New Pair of Eyes...
I hum a few bars of a song whose image refuses to coalesce.
I surf sensimthreads as I wait at a shuttlebusstop.
One thread my engine searches and reads to me each day is news of a serial killer- already copywrit ‘Ice-spike Killer’- songs and videos and miniVISE accruing any Cr to a special account, waiting for capture to be used as decided. This Virtual Interactive Sensory Environment is a Bestseller. This serial killer- said one of about six current in City Nuevo- is entering sensim dreams of target and torturing her to death. Said to be following a pattern of S&M not of any geography, any history, instead following a narrative of characters, women in sensonovelas available on XXX?-threads. Justine. Juliette. O. Kathy. Victoria. Citypol already know how the next victim will die. Citypol insist basic neurosystem security is sufficient block: this woman fell asleep while openly engaged to her corp ASC...
She was a market researcher.
I rise six zigsteps on the shuttlebus.
I disembark in a familiar crowd of fellow riders, only momentarily aware of surveillance by one, a tall, slim, redhead woman whom I would recognize. It is her version of a face popular seasons past.
'Philippe?' she says, stuttering a gesture of welcome; an incomplete wave.
I watch her. I do not nod.
'It is Philippe?' she smiles.
I cannot name her. I blink.
'She should have used a newer autospike- market researcher- kind, she knew the risks she was taking,' she continues sad. She smiles tentative. I decide confusion but she is not distracted. I try to imagine tech that could automatically follow another’s sensim. Xtech? Metacorp Tech? AVS- Alliance Victoire Salvador- Tech? Anything-
'Your face,' she nods.
I have complete control of my own features.
'It never matters. We know each other, under the skin,' she continues. 'We can talk in your workplace node.'
I work, as anyone in a mundane position, on Worldnet, and keep this node only out of desire to have someplace to leave my work, when I leave. It is a generous seven-square three, furnished near empty, with premodern, truewood and trueleather chaises. She is a silhouette against pale sky. She looks across to fishfarming and artifact divers in the stubby-teeth ruins of Old Old Manhattan. I gesture to an opposite chaise when we enter, but she chooses to walk to the glass corner and look downslope; a zigslope of warehouses, capsule towers, genegineered oak trees of a park by the cricket pitch. There are always many people on this quarter, life I watch in meditation, somedays, listen to constant singsong of children’s voices, as school uniforms trail their entamo to a swimming pool edging the park...
'You never recognize?' she says, then offers a handclasp: ‘Patricia.’
'Philippe. We met at SimCity on Ellis?' I suggest a cafe.
She does not reply. I wander a slow, invisible circle from chaise to windowall, to ASC Know on glass table, to chaise again. I sit.
'My ASC is unable to name you, Ms- Patricia...' I gesture around us to walls of the room, the unseen scanners of my work ASC. I download my eyes to it. It knows everyone ever met by any of the senses recorded. I order green tea.
'Have you ever... closed an innocent by mistake?' she asks.
I decide confusion but she is not distracted.
'I listen to my friends- they say it is kind incompatible to expect anything from you. You will not teach me anymore, you are kind, as your work describes, you are a blank space, a black hole-'
'Listen to your friends,' I sigh. Tea rises on my sidetable. I wait.
She looks back from my window; my ASC relays all the perception tech with which she looks at me. My ASC now searches my recorded dreams, my fantasy women, my favored images: very tall, very thin, very blonde. I am not in this way imaginative. Patricia is attractive, perhaps even in her bornbody, but she is never a dream recalled.
'I have nothing for you. I am working. I cannot help you-'
'Have you ever closed an innocent by mistake?'
I glare at her.
''Guilt or innocence is not within parameters of Closure operation. There is here no moral or immoral art; there is only good or bad art,'' she parrots.
I raise steaming tea and sip without thought, almost burning my lips. She knows the quotes. I look away. There is nothing to argue.
'I read the Know of your life,’ she pauses. ‘I read that you were in the War of the Drowning Islands, you worked in the Ministry of Love, never more than an Eye- is it possible to record so much inflicted pain without desensitization, without damaging your own... sense? - never mind, I see it is incompatible-'
'Are you a Journ?' I spit out.
'Not exactly,' she replies.
I look out to drifting microkites- this season’s essential sixteenth birthday present for Peakborn- translucent, shimmering, butterfly-blue wings. I watch them rising on thermals, circling higher and higher to zig peaks seven hundred-and-one levels above. I focus and magnify, pretend searching. I wait.
'I am a researcher,' she says. 'I work for Vapeur Violet- the consumad agency?- credit my student loans, but my true mission is as sensimartist. I offer this card-’ she slides a CL battery into my ASC socket and I sense all Green-’ I am directed to interview Philippe Kingwell- you- if I want to know about Erasure-'
'Closure,' I say. 'Closure. What directed you? -'
‘Who. Your action manager. Your rare skills are darkly known, you are considered primary by her...'
Maya gives me a jolt, hoping to aid my work. I am annoyed, but she is rarely wrong. I pause to try and imagine what she sees here, in a sensimartist. I sigh.
'I dreamwork. I... research as well- track down everysense of each case, a process that might extend for years, a process I am always working,’ I look back to her.
She is polite, waiting for permission to store a senseportrait of me, for later analysis of whatever ASC she can access. I nod. Her pupils spark wider. Her nostrils flare. She perches lightly beside, on my chaise, as if a bird on a branch. She brushes a sensimthread spike on the back of my hand.
I walk along the beach, Hanalei Bay, in a vivid tropical sunset, flaming clouds above memories invented of a 1927 cruiseship. Sensory stimulation waves over me, even as I still feel anchored in NuevoLondon, not riding on Enablers to manifest complete VISE. I hear voices talking, laughing, and Big Band music comes across a calm sea. It is warm, gently breezy, empty and quiet on the beach. I know it is all simulation, that the Original is now drowned in Flood, that it is never real...
'Philippe?’ Maya says. ‘What brings you here?'
'You directed a sesimartist to me?'
She nods. A voice and a wave calls her towards a beach luau; men in white tuxedoes, women in flapper dresses, all giggling voices, suggest this is her off-hour sense. I have arrived, been admitted, only for these few seconds.
'Do I have a choice?' I say.
'Of course... but I think it might be helpful- you might concept a bar, even a tune, to help you with Zero Zero Four Three Two...' a kindness fugitive over her features. 'Never stop searching. Leave now,' she walks away.
I blink back to work, coiling the sensimthread with a flick, and look at the sensimartist. She sits close and I sense an unfamiliar fragrance. She has been watching my face while I was gone. I have complete control of my own features. She smiles.
I remember everything. Before, useful, when an Eye for SD Intelligence in Old Old London, when I worked in the Ministry of Love. Now, a curse that is uniquely skilled for my unnamed section of NNSY Citypol, ability only sharpened by years of that war, ability no one, no tech, ever could create. I can download senses every morning but the dreams, the memories, never leave. I can empty my eyes but the images remain in my head. Even New New Bedlam could never wipeout- no memwipes freed me for Pleasure Zone, as if a Skyside Commando in that war, returning from Fire Zone Cobalt... I have tried for seasons past now, since that war, to drown those obsessive senses in potent cocktails of wayside pharma, in psychoactives and hallucinogenics, sedatives and stimulants, drugs and alcohol...
I see everything.
She is one point-seven six metres, redhead, fit and firm in her youth, with a soft posture, a curved slouch, hipbones forward, shoulders open, back angled- destabilized swaying shoulders twisted on her spine, not over her hips. She modes an artist-model’s body: slim, medium breasts, narrow waist and flared hips and a rear, fully rounded, that I admire neutrally. Her body is accentuated by free definition of her generous curves, her breasts and hips prominent. Grafts of unnamed techs marble her brown bornskin. Her sensimthreads sockets prickle as if bruised fruit, along dermal, golden threadlines that follow her musculature. She sways nervous on her stance. She warms highlights of burnished, dark gold on each curve of mode on body, greenfur fabric flickering with shadows as if moonlit under tree leaves. She is riding her ASC in high-definition perception mode, watching me watch her. Her borneyes are hazel.
'Question?' I say.
'I don’t have kind, questions- I want to watch you work-'
'I work alone-'
'You said you’re working now? -'
'Dreams. I’m working dreams. I follow my own schedulers. I am given a case. I wait- an Operating System will arrive unannounced, I don’t know how, or why- it will just suddenly be there. I search. I find. I close-'
'I want to watch you work.'
I look a refusal.
She brushes a sensimthread spike across the back of my hand, her gaze lowered, moist silver lower lip, studded tongue flickering over the cupid bow of her rosedark upper lip.
'I work alone-'
'I know, I will just watch...'
I look a refusal.
'Do you have Protection?'
ASC scans her flash: seasons’ past tech, high quality, a surge box, a sensecut, a listing of alterations and shields for her headware- AVS, not covered by any corp. She is unnaturally highly educated, trained in philosophies, in psychologies, that offer refuge for the heart through passage of intellect. In all senses she is completely protected. I wait. I search for any refusal. I work alone.
'Enough?' she asks.
'There is nothing there to watch,' I sigh.
'I do not sense this... I need- need something never otherwise described, sensed, understood-'
'Serial killers, mass killers, are not interesting people. They are notparticularly intelligent. We, all people, are so... attached to our lives, our consciousnesses, that we want to believe only an exceptional Other could destroy us. This is not true. These are not men with any kind of exceptional understanding of humanity. These are men who have no sense of the real of another,' I gesture completion. 'These are crazy killers...'
She records this exposition with a neutral, skeptical gaze.
'Dreams,' I explain, 'are the most difficult to... to erase. Our profession started seasons’ tech past- before Worldnet was even opened- when headware was simple, when there was no sense-simulation, when it was only hardcopy we... erased. There were then assertions that our work was essentially, ultimately, more than executions- even as there is no death penalty, now. There were then lawyers for metamedia who claimed we denied the public’s right to know- their... right to build money-'
‘I know history. I probably sense of more sources than you,’ she says.
I look a refusal.
'The market researcher was simply unlucky, ' I shrug. 'Her window of vulnerability was probably no more than a few seconds, between fading anchor to her corp ASC and sleep sensecut. Some Black Grid logicsky programs can come through and dominate your own sky, can torture you, can kill you, forever and in only a few seconds, particularly when you use wayside Enablers...'
I sway to my feet, clearing a cloud of fragrance she emits, a perfume that weakens resolve to silence. I walk to the glass corner. Time has passed. If I read my internal clock only minutes have passed; if I read shadows of trees in the park it is somehow late afternoon. She smiles an apology. She flashes sensim of her patience, my total, constant resistance that forces her to wait hours. It has been nearly automatic, despite my agreement to open, that my sensim ASC manifests barriers to communication. Rage at her presumption, her searching, her impolite invasion of my sensetime dissolves and reveals only ruins of my own responsibility.
'It is... easier, simpler, if you would just let me watch you work...'
I look away.
'I know this is never retribution, I never understand why-'
'Revenge is not Justice,' I quote.
'A person is tortured and killed. The guilty continues to live- we would hope tortured by inescapable conscience, but if not...' I shrug. 'If not, there is nothing we can do to torture him, we can only flash his cortex so he senses constant remorse, but there is never anything he can answer, never a reason to end his torment. He often kills himself, but we are careful it is never permanent, we are careful he has lost all rights to direct the passage of his life and death. We cannot cycle back time- stop the torture, the murder- our Mission is for the survivors, the loved ones, whose worlds can never explain the loss. We quom- digitalize- their dreams on CLs and eliminate all references to the killer, the act, the memories. Memorial services are for the living. And, of course, there are sensimartists who would build money out of this pain- ‘Ice-spike Killer’, for example...'
I look at her sadly.
'Why does sensecut tech leave those seconds gap?' she says instead.
'Because any shorter and system crashes every few seconds as your attention wanders, because it would be too responsive to that wandering, because to keep it anchored secure would tire out your POP-'
'Everyone learns basic Point-of-Perception arts almost from creche-'
'Because a sleepy POP is a drain, is dangerous, is-'
'Because metamedia know that there is advertising revenue in those few seconds, that translucent consciousness on the cusp of sleep- you will never recall those microads, yet you will never escape them,' she smiles gentle, an apology. 'I work for Vapeur Violet, remember. I know this tech.'
'Do not believe everything your masters tell you,' she says.
'So where do we begin?'
There are no words to describe how the Operating System works; how I crash through layers of sense, in dreams, searching, finding, erasing every sensememory of a given case. Hardcopy is easiest- the Original Closure- so destroy, throw away, burn the evil magic of whatever crime committed: guns, knives, axes, ropes- any weapons. Then it morphs, through years of tech, to become further abstracted, less hardcopy, into sensememories of any primitive forms: DTVs- Dead Tree Versions- Books, Magazines, Papers- any stories. Then tech accelerates, encompasses more then more: Video, Virtual, VISE- all overcurrent formats. A kind of immortality afforded, infamy named, psychsickness celebrated. XXX? Bestsellers. Psychdocs often recommend survivor patients to our group- after all waking sensememory hardware is disposed- to have their own memories of the offender erased, their nightmares, their dreams as stored on Crystalline Lattices. I summon my slaveints- such as Lethe- carry out necessary judgements, and send purged senses, carefully edited CLs, back to the survivors. Closure of all media is my work. I work in dreams, through dreams.
I am given a case. I wait for an Operating System.
I dream. I search. I find. I Close.
It is morning when I come out. Time in dreams, particularly working, never follows the clock of waking world. I am tired, coated in a film of perspiration, as if returning from a great distance. Geography in dreams, particularly working, has no physical analog. I strip mode, throw it into the washerbot. I shower in perfumed water- roses this day- in the corner of my office that flexes out an enclosure, a drain, a curtain at command. I mask my face, stripping it of dead skin cells, nascent beard, shower my hair clean and gel in a warm wave. I change my eyes to hazel. I pull down a robe, then another I lay beside her.
''Morning, Patricia...' I touch her shoulder.
She startles awake, shrinking in fear of my touch, gasping in pain. She pulls the chaise blanket up as if for protection, jerking threadspikes out of her necksockets. She sees the other chaise, where I slept, where I dreamed, where I worked, where I sit down now. There is nothing to argue.
'Shower is free. Just put your mode in the washerbot,' I say.
She looks at me in fear, suddenly falling to great pain. She reaches out, anxious for touch. I kneel in front of her, embrace her, and she sobs into my neck. Her entire body convulses in this emotion. She presses her body against me in desperation. Her borneyes are hazel. She cries and cries and cries. I hold her close. I inhale her natural sleep fragrance- somehow this, too, weakens resolve to silence.
'I know,' I say. 'I know.'
She pulls back and watches my face with intent.
I have complete control of my own features.
'Is it- is it always like that?'
Walking home, I watch music. Willow Society, Ryu Alloy. Neohumans, Retrovirus Rock. Zoo Zoo, Mon wid d’ Ice Spike. Condition Critical, Soft Rain. Carcinogenic, City of Yes...
I hum a few bars of a song whose image refers to coalesce.
I surf sensimthreads as I wait at a shuttlebusstop.
I sit on the edge of my yacht, on mahogany beams, gazing across white, simple plastic of the foredeck. I feel gentle waves, watch distant horizon of a perfect crescent bay- Hanalei Bay, this time also BeforeFlood, but now 1999. It is my off-hours sense. It is midday. Endless summer. Clouds cluster dark around island mountain peak...
'Did she help with Zero Zero Four Three Two...?' a voice calls from below deck. Maya emerges, nude, wood-brown tanned, carrying a thick, large towel, a DTV book. Her eyes are invisible behind mirror lenses.
I watch her. She smiles at her own nudity and the body my logicsky has given her.
'Patricia, the sensimartist...?'
'She thought I could help her,' I shrug.
'She wanted to watch Closure, wanted to see what happens; I don’t know why. Her sense-response gave me an extra... energy to finish Zero Zero Four Three Two...'
'Artists…' I shrug. 'Artists will always believe there is something there, something real to investigate, to understand- to make a response to these killers...'
Maya nods sad, lays out the towel and lies her front down on it, resting beside a the DTV book, well-thumbed, thick, an Old Old Bestseller whose fascination now is no more than Cultural Artifact. It follows, uses, magnifies essential misunderstandings then current about serial killers: a central character, a killer, is used to understand another killer uncaught, as if there was a shared creative tendency, in all serial killers. I am sad for the victim’s relatives of that era. I am coming down from the high of successful manipulation of dreams. I can never do the same to my own memories, survivals of all those tortured for SD Intelligence, in the War of the Drowning Islands. I never caused that pain; all I ever did was watch. I can watch the unwatchable, remember, and resense a kind of sensim horror too real for our clients. It is an Art, a Tech that renders me useful and cold. Others may work for Psychdocs, but there is no one who can turn back time. Nothing can change. If wanted, there are always sources of media who will bring you these horrors on XXX? Channels. I feel emotions rippling across my own sensebody, and seek refuge in recall of Art, of Tech.
''Stupid, dangerous, crazy killers,' I quote, 'do not deserve to have everexisted. Erase them from existence. Close them out of all memories: this is your Mission.''
Maya sighs. She is proud of the Know I flash her, pleased that Zero Zero Four Three Two is now Closed. I watch her body slump to sleep as she leaves and memories of another, a sensim construct only, fills her empty husk, brings in another sense...
'I had the most terrifying dream!’ Patricia cries out, waking, then her voice cracks into a surprised sob. ‘I- I was watching- watching this horrible murdering scene- but it was on a stage- it was- I- I was behind this- this unbreakable glass and I- I couldn’t do anything! I- I-'
She reaches out, embraces me, and sobs into my neck.
'I know,' I say. 'I know.'
I love my work. I hate my work.
(wanted sense-simulation to have some therapeutic use...)