By Joseph Hirsch
Yesterday around 1300 Hours, a man microchipped as James Matsuka was found wandering naked through the Docklands abutting Silo City, where he lived with his common-law wife, Rachel. Mr. Matsuka, for reasons unknown, was heard to shout repeatedly, “The monkeys are coming for me!” before flinging himself from an overpass in front of an oncoming MagLev Omnibus. He was dismembered on impact, and the line was shut down for two hours as cleaning and forensic crews were dispatched. No further details are available at this time.
- Direct Chyron Quote from Live Wifire Newscrawl
A group of thin, flattened slate-colored clouds pressed down from the sky, appearing in the heavens just before sunset like a massed saucer invasion landing in the center of Silo City. As night fell, however, and the automated spheroid lights awoke, the still-pressing cloud cover reflected the glow of the city and rather resembled a seraphim descending in ranks from the heavens.
But whether they looked like flying saucers or angels, the clouds were of no consequence to Doctor Gable, nor his client, one Marcus Shinker, and so the doctor closed his jalousies, sending the room into darkness.
It was as black as the path in front of a spelunker in a cavern where his lantern had lost power. Shinker could see nothing, and heard his breathing as if it were the sound of the ocean at high tide. He wondered if that was the point. Then he stopped wondering, as the array of screens in the coffered ceiling came to life.
Bluish light from the monitors suffused the doctor, turning his ash-and-anthracite suit to aquamarine. His voice came to Shinker, but his eyes were hidden behind his square-frame glasses reflecting the light of the monitors in the ceiling.
“The neural decoding of your dream should be done,” the doctor said, and Shinker thought, I should hope so.This is my fifth time here and it was only supposed to take three sessions for sync to happen. But he stayed his tongue, and watched the chamfered boxes grow from the ceiling, push off so that the monitors reached toward him in staggered columns. The array looked at first like dripstones and then like a miniature skyline growing from the ceiling, some architect’s scale model somehow falling down from the sky onto his face.
“Tell me,” the doctor said, “if you see your memories. Tell me, if you see your dreams. Your nightmares,” the doctor added.
The ex-soldier stared into the ceiling. He felt himself hypnotized, drowsy, calm enough to remember the last mission he’d run …
He was back on the dropship, checking his disc-slinger, whose readout claimed he was charged for three-thousand shots. The gun was contoured for another man’s grip (someone who’d been killed on another mission, whose weapon had been recycled) but he doubted it would affect his aim.
Gordo was next to him, just as he had been in basic and in advanced training, gripping his own battery-op shooter. His voice was reassuring, his words coming out of his mouth along with a thin stream of tobacco that dripped over the digitized pattern of his fatigues. Their uniforms had acquired the tropical signal and Shinker could tell just by looking at his friend what color the world outside would be, when that hatch opened and they got to work.
“So these transgenic junkies, they think they got the solution to everything,” Gordo was shouting over the roar of the dropper’s turbine engine. “They want all the extract from these trees here. Problem is, these rats are going through this stuff like it’s cheese. The feral rats have been eating all the oil extract and sap, sucking this big arboretum dry. They’re gnawing these things root, vine, and stem and the Concession’s in danger. The monks don’t get their subsidies and the Corps don’t get their block change unless the sap keeps spilling. Something’s got to be done. Intervention-wise. They figure why not? The monks got this planet as a settlement, but they won’t fight to keep it. As long as no Chi-Coms touch down on New Tibet, they won’t take a break from praying to their little golden statues.”
Gordo paused at this point in the story to shoot a stream of tobacco, thick as egg-yolk, at the steel toes of his jump boots.
“Watch where you’re spitting, you hayseed!”
He ignored the mega-metro’s jibe at his provinciality and continued. “So they get the contract and they crisp-crunch the genes on these monkeys. Make sure got a taste for rat flesh and not for this tree extract. Shit’s more expensive than oil but you can’t power your car with it.”
“So what’s it used for?” Shinker could barely hear his voice as the landing gear un-plated and got ready to mate with the surface of the planet.
“Rich women facial rejuvenation, get men’s dicks hard? How should I know? The point is, the monkeys ain’t got no taste for the extract, which is great. Even better, they got a yen for the rat meat. Problem solved, right?”
Gordo smiled with a mouthful of teeth brown as betelnut.
“Right,” Shinker said.
“Wrong.” Gordo’s smile twisted his whole face so that it was like a rubber mask. “They like monk meat.”
Which is where we come in, Shinker thought.
The hatch opened and they were out, humping gear in file, weapons at port-arms, a launcher every fifth man.
“God, it’s beautiful…” Shinker heard someone whisper, and it didn’t matter to whom the voice belonged. That soldier spoke for them all. The monks’ religion apparently didn’t stop them from doing nonviolent mods, as was the case with some neo-Hutterites, and the trees had been gene-sculpted to look like pagodas, ashrams, rich green and brown wooden temples that grew in patterns that praised the Eastern Gods, shaped like topiary but from within, at the cellular level.
The lichen beneath their feet was spun-sugar soft, while the green triple-canopy thickness above shrouded them in a fairytale world so different from the fiery hellscape where they’d last fought. Flitting purple butterflies moved like living hallucinations, wending through tuberoses and bell-shaped flowers that reminded Shinker of his wife’s seat of love. He missed her, his son too. The beauty of this small green planet of monks and his daydreaming made his hold on his disc-slinger so tenuous that he forgot that he was ten-toes down a planet of mostly rats and monkeys and whatever holy men in the jungle hadn’t been slain while deep in meditation.
He didn’t know (for there was no way that he could) that the velvety moss upholstering the path at the soldiers’ feet was ciliated, or that due to the earflaps of the evolved simians in a bamboo grove, this meant the ground was literally snitching on the men with their every step.
The monkeys’ ears perked up, and they ceased bathing and drinking in the spillage of blood and milkfat ripped from the udders of a yak they had just felled and torn to pieces. They watched the two-leggers with their toys coming toward them. These ones were clad in some sort of armor rather than draped in gold and crimson flowing robes, like the hairless two-leggers they’d slashed to ribbons and devoured at their leisure, after which they’d carted some of the man-meat back to the deep gorge hemmed in by boulders where the smell of flesh rot wouldn’t spread to tip off predators or prey.
The monkeys’ snowy coats bristled as the men got closer, and as they prepared for battle and puffed out their chests they resembled spiny porcupines.
“If I had my cam mount,” Gordo said, “I’d send back some shots of this place to the Mrs. She’s building a hothouse for some flo-”
The jet of red left Gordo’s throat so quickly that Shinker was sure it was just another bit of tobacco spit, but when another ichorous splash of plasma and blood flew he knew they had walked into a trap. Stunted shadows of things that were half-gibbon, half pygmy swung by prehensile tail and crooked arm from trunk to branch to treetop all around them in a symphony of movement as coordinated as a trapeze act at the circus.
The shriek of the disc-slingers coming to life vied with the howl of the hissing monkeys. Flaming, throwing-star shaped jets of battery-powered spall flew toward the simians still dancing from vine to branch. It didn’t take long for first contact, for the men to shoot the monkeys or the monkeys to pounce on the men.
The monkeys lunged from the trees and jumped onto the backs of soldiers and then the sounds and sensations of a point-blank melee were everywhere. Crimson mist of first blood mixed with the phosphorous-white strobe of highly-charged hot rounds.
One of the creatures riding a wave of adrenaline punched its way through a soldier’s sappy plate armor and raked its claws through the shocked man’s abdominal wall. The soldier could only stare down and watch paralyzed as the monkey managed to unwind a cabled length of viscera free, absconding with the purple intestine that he dislodged as if unspooling a long bolt of thread. The soldier’s screams tapered as he watched his innards lengthen in the clawed and blood-slicked hand of the furry little white macaque hybrid.
The monkeys were small enough to vaporize when impacted by the spall shot, but they were fast enough to make the soldiers miss them as often as they hit. So the men had one free shot before it was close quarters against things that were all claw and sharp tooth, vicious and rabid balls of fur soaked in the blood of both their fallen comrades and the two-leggers.
Shinker’s latest round was aimed center-mass on a monkey a couple yards away, but it ducked just as he fired and as a result it caught the shot on the back of its head, scalped on impact. Afterwards it presented with a luminous blood-and-bone soaked braincase that quivered like a slick and beautiful massive ruby. It fought on with the top of its skull missing and its brain exposed, oblivious to its own pain as it cracked a soldier’s orbital bone with a rock and pulled his eye free of the smashed socket like it was a juicy, red wine-soaked escargot.
Shinker turned to check his six and found himself face to face with another one, perhaps a relative of the monkey from whom he’d just stripped half a skull.
Its nostrils were two snubbed-slits, flattened and gray and hideous. Wet as a dog’s and flaring. Its fur cover was thin, the pelt wispy as corn silk but greyish-white, like snowmelt that had been pooling for too long.
Rage, fear, and fighting had its fur standing on end, giving it a makeshift mohawk, a sharp point on the crown of the head to go with the jagged teeth breaking from the hungry mouth. Its eyes were iridescent with the reflected colors of the beautiful-but-poisonous world it had conquered.
After Shinker’s weapon dipped to low-charge he’d pulled his Ka-Bar and depressed its “Scorch” setting button so that its stiletto was superheated like a flame-whitened ingot. He waited for the monkey to pounce so that he could impale it on a sharpened tang of fire. The tac knife would pierce its breastplate like butter and upon deeper penetration melt its spine like candle tallow.
“Come on, you ugly little bastard!”
But it didn’t come on. It only hissed and stood in place, well outside slashing range and not willing to leap if it meant getting stabbed.
Burning spall shot came from the trees, return fire from the simians, and the men feared that they had somehow learned to operate a weapon they’d lifted off one of the butchered soldiers. But the monkeys, it turned out, were blessed with leathery inner pads on their hands that allowed them to pick up the smoldering rounds and throw the shrapnel back at the men as expertly as they might have winged shit at zookeepers.
A piece hit the jugular of the man to Shinker’s left, hard enough to decapitate him with his head still encased in its helmet and rolling like a shied ninepin. The sliver of smoldering laser-cooked disc sunk to the heartwood of the steeple-shaped tree behind him, half-felling the wooden moss-and-mushroom-upholstered temple into which it was lodged. The round thrown by the monkey had come close enough to burn the hair from Shinker’s eyebrows, but the action was also enough to spook the monkey in front of him into stepping back a couple paces. The alien enemy he’d stared down walked backwards into a friendly fire spall chucked like a frisbee by another monkey in a tree, this piece meant for a two-legger but splitting the smart monkey in half. The sound and spray of acetylene-like fire scared another equally clever monkey from Shinker’s back, a beast he hadn’t noticed as the one in front distracted him so they could pincer him.
As he turned, the ordure-smell of its breath lingered and it moved onto the back of another, less-aware soldier, searching for a vein to pull free as diligently as a mother monkey grooming its child for nits and lice. That smell-
Lingered still in the doctor’s office.
He breathed and blinked. The ceiling ceased coming toward him with its staggered, jagged array of monitors that depended, threatened to slice him like a pendulum.
The lights came on. The curtains slid open again, letting in the light of a jaundiced moon whose sickly glow was muted to a series of golden haloes repeated like mirrored reflections of each other spread across the wide canvas of the sky. Moonbeams the color of rancid butter filtered through the cottony obstinate clouds still refusing to clear from the heavens.
The doctor was hunched in front of his computer, speaking to Shinker and typing to someone else. “According to your chart, this is your first bespoke pill printing.”
The doctor looked over at the soldier, who was still blinking rapidly as his heart rate adjusted after reliving the nightmare. He wanted to curse the doctor aloud for his callousness, but he figured the man probably saw a thousand vets a day, more if he was remote-licensed.
“Yes,” Shinker said. “This is my first.”
“Your stomach acids will hit the substrate and burn the coating free in thirty minutes. The pills will be stepped up in the separator so that you can flood in sequence.” The doctor spun on his stool, pulled himself closer to his prone patient. Shinker was stuck by his cold sweat to the form of his recliner, as if it was chaise longue and he had been sleeping outside in the sun for too long.
The doctor spoke the last of the directions to Shinker slowly, so that he would remember everything even through the groggy haze of the nightmare’s still-lingering residue.
“In order for flooding to work, you need to take the pills as prescribed. Each level of fear produced will be one gradient higher than the next. Once you’ve taken the whole cycle, the actual memories, the actual dreams, won’t be able to hurt you anymore. Do you understand?”
Shinker nodded his head.
The doctor smiled. His eyes were colorless, maybe gunmetal behind the thick square-frames. “Rachel will print your script.”
“Thank you.” Shinker tried standing and felt nauseous.
“And I’ll erase the petabyte of data we collected on you, unless you consent to have it forwarded to the R & D clinic, in which case this entire therapy session will be discounted and prorated. Otherwise, payment is due upon dispersal of pills.”
“No,” the soldier said, shaking his head, addressing the “payment” part of the doc’s spiel and not the other part of the pro forma disclaimer. “You can use my data.” The last thing he wanted was to be viewed non-anon as a sad sack vet, a sample in some petri dish that a bunch of med students might study, point at and look at; and since they were human, they might laugh at him, too. Then the info would leak onto the Live Wifire regardless of what kind of nondisclosure clauses were signed, and kids stoned on oil would trade the feed of him and his friends being butchered by the monkeys and the soldiers shooting them to cubed bits of blasted blood and fur.
The last thing he needed was to be known as the guy who pissed his pants on first contact with some weird transgenic macaques, who managed to outwit a supposedly top-rated tactical squad.
“Keep my info,” he said to the doctor, standing, readying to go see Rachel out in the corridor. “But keep my name out of it.” He shook his head, still queasy from his reunion with the monkeys via the ceiling display. “If it will help someone else.”
The doctor stowed his smile, which was easy, as his lips were thin. “I think it will be very helpful.” The staggering soldier was too tired to detect the note of irony in the doctor’s voice on his way out of the office to pick up his pills.
Shinker’s eyes adjusted as he moved from the doctor’s weird theater into the corridor, where his path along thin loop carpet was lit by unguarded fluorescent fixtures. The waiting room’s light had been much softer, but this part of the polyclinic felt as sterile as one of the mega-hospitals on the hill above the favelas. Silo City smelled like bilge but at least had its salty portside flavor to recommend it, and the buildings all made of retrofitted shipping containers gave the people and place a sort of resourceful pluck that made walking in their midst less of a chore than dealing with the Corps up above or the ultra-poor below.
He finally came to the glass-cuboid where the pharm techs in white lab coats worked over their printers, the gray boxes smelling of ozone and emitting violet rays through the cracks in their hardened cases as they produced pills. Shinker recognized Rachel from all four of his previous appointments. Her hair was ruby-red, marcelled in waves that became plaster curls around her forehead and ears. Her wireless silver specs sat on a nose that jutted like a prow, the crowning feature on a face that was severe from forehead to chin and yet somehow startingly beautiful. He wished he knew her.
She blinked repeatedly, as if doing so might cause him to disappear. “Your script will be up in a couple of minutes.”
“Thank you,” he said dumbly. Something about his words, or maybe demeanor, caused her to soften a bit. She smiled, regretted her prior curtness, slid the glass partition aside separating her from the ex-soldier.
“You can sit if you like, in the waiting room.” She extended a long pointer finger, white as bone china except for the deep red nail that matched her hair.
“Can I see it?” He asked. She knew without pressing him about the pronoun that he meant the printer. Her smile widened as she realized that he was harmless. Some of these vets weren’t.
“Sure.” She stood aside to let him see the machine gently rocking from side to side, as if a small feral rodent was trapped in there. She explained the process to him as if it wasn’t printing up his order, but he was rather on a guided tour of some facility where fudge was made.
“The powder is being lain down right now. Your printlets will be pyramid-shaped, which will make the coating evaporate faster.”
“Like a shaped charge,” he said, thinking of explosives, how sometimes you left a triangle-formed wedge empty to control blast direction when blowing something open. He winced, and she was back to blinking. He realized he’d lost ground. He was just a meathead, a war-lover who could only have things explained to him by way of analogies about blowing this up or smashing that.
He was a bully, an imperial puppet. Not only that, he was a puppet with weak strings. A coward who needed these little pyramid pills to prop him up. He knew it was too late to win her back, but he tried anyway, and didn’t have to cast about long for a topic.
“I’ve seen one of those before.” He pointed at the machine. “During a ceasefire, some Non-Planet Organizations would bring them in, make polypills for the kids who were wounded in crossfires.”
She nodded, smiled, showing him a mouthful of white teeth, two even rows slightly reddened by her lipstick. “I used to work for Interglobal Aid. Those were pretty primitive compared to these.”
She turned from him and he noticed she had her red hair in a bun, pierced by a cameo chopstick. An apple fragrance wafted from her to him on a chilled blast of air sent from some unseen AC vent.
He drank it in, closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened his eyes, she was standing before him holding his tailored tablets in a plastic container. She grinded her teeth, her mouth closed and jaw hardened so that her triangular face became squared. He wondered if she had caught him drinking in her scent via his nostrils as it came to him on that light wind.
It hadn’t been intentional. He wanted to speak, but knew he would stutter. The damn monkeys had destroyed his nerves. He’d never be able to hold a normal conversation with anyone again, much less a woman. And sex…he could forget that. Without the aid of other implants or pills.
And these little pyramids were enough. He held out his hand and she dropped the plastic tube in his outstretched palm. She said, “Make sure to take them in order. The final one will be a full flood. You’ll feel what you felt with the doctor today.”
His stomach lurched, antacids dancing as if a new species of bacteria were spawning in his bowels.
She blinked slowly, so slowly her eyes were closed for a moment and it became possible for him to imagine they’d already slept together, that he was turning to her on his two-man bed in the master bedroom of his shipping container, and she was there slumbering on the pillow next to him. “That final session won’t be as intense as it was today, provided you take them in order.”
He nodded, still didn’t trust himself to talk, took the pills, and turned around.
Rachel watched him walk down the corridor, toward the pressure tube that would push him back to the ground where an omnibus stand filled the curb, a quay of greys and whites waiting for brain- and body-damaged fares to stagger out of the glass citadel.
A message from Doctor Gable glowed green in the corner of her contact lens, but she ignored it, partly because she knew what he wanted already, and partly because she couldn’t give him his answer until she had her own answer from another quarter.
And just as she blinked his message away like she had several times while talking with the last patient, she blinked again to bring up the red message she’d been waiting on, pushing the intermediate green away to get to the critical red.
As Rachel blinked she saw him, her husband, James, scoped and framed in the fiftieth floor of some steel, concrete, and glass Bauhaus superblock of buildings, anonymous and small as an ant crawling its way across a scale diaroma of a city, but visible for all that, especially when she willed him and the woman he was with, against her will, into focused magnification.
They were making love, or more like screwing, on a pie-shaped bed, him pulling the woman’s curly black mane into a makeshift ponytail (the way he used to pull hers).
She would break five-thousand Globo’s off her block and chain it to the dick’s tether, since he had gotten her the evidence, confirmed her suspicion. But confronting Jimmy with the evidence wouldn’t be enough, what with her knowing that hell hath no fury and yearning to demonstrate it to him now.
She went back over to the printer where she had just punched out the poor man’s script. It smelled of paraffin and vegetable oil, laced with a synthetic inky musk, reminding her of the squid smell that wrapped its tentacles around all of Silo City.
The readout still displayed the name, vitals, and print request for Mr. Shinker. But a couple tweaks here, and an amendment there, move a couple zeros and voila! She pressed print, and the machine barely rumbled, since it was such a small order that needed to be pressed out now.
Strange, she thought, that just adjusting a couple of digits would produce an exponentially more powerful pill containing the terrorized memories of the man she’d just seen, his eyes hollow and his nerves shot from battling those feral rabid simians on some far-off planet.
James was a bit of a pussycat, though, and would no doubt have a different reaction to another man’s nightmares turned up to ten, or beyond that to some incomprehensible capacity, hallucinations or rather vivid memories of a war that he’d never been in. She didn’t doubt it would break the bastard when she slipped it into his drink tonight, and listened to him tell lies about all the important work he was doing at the lab, rather than all the skanky women he was banging.
And since she had to get due compensation for what the dick had charged her to get those remote snaps with his commandeered cockroach and its dowsing fiberoptic antennae, and since one of the junior techs or a repairperson might figure out she’d printed an extra pill (which was a class 3 violation) she might as well take up the doctor and his green blinking offer.
“I’ll be right back,” she said, to no one in particular, though Tech Team Member Gia nodded as best he could with his head down and eyes affixed to the microscope where he watched a sample quiver on a slide.
Her heels made a light clacking sound on the thin carpet, the stilettos causing an auscultated thump like a doctor listening to a patient’s chest or waiting for a funny bone to register a reflex.
She opened Doctor Gable’s door, surprised him as he was lost, staring at a water feature and thinking about…what? Perhaps his wife who he may have been cheating on? What might have been at stake for him here, what intel might the roach following him reveal? Being flagellated by a dominatrix?
She wasn’t concerned and owed him nothing, not even curiosity. She knew enough to know that she could now blackmail him as easily as he her. Greed was bond enough. Rachel stood in front of the oak desk behind which the man in the anthracite suit sat, said, “I’ll give it to him tonight, with dinner.”
“Good,” the doctor said, clearing his throat as he spoke so that something phlegmatic touched the roof of his mouth and forced him to cough a couple times. He sat up in his chair, awkwardly, and she wondered if he might not either be nursing or hiding an erection back there. He leaned forward, hunching so that his shoulder blades caused his coal-colored jacket to tent, pulling fabric from the sportscoat up around the elbows so that his blue-striped shirt sleeves were visible.
“Certain parties are very keen to see how such medicine, such memories, might be put to unconventional use.”
“I’m sure they are interested, quite.” She blinked back more incoming digital snaps captured from the camera with carapace, her husband mounted by the well-endowed woman who rode him reverse cowgirl on a different bed, James clutching her glutes so that they showed the first shadows of dimples, soft fat so perfectly contoured that it couldn’t be considered a flaw.
“And your piece of the block will be broken off,” the doctor said. “Chained to your tether by close-of-business tomorrow.” The man wasn’t so much pale as grey, sallow beyond anything the spectrum could cover, and when he smiled now it was like he didn’t. His bushy grey eyebrow arched, like a chevron, or more like a pyramid she thought, to a sharp point.
She gave the poor nervous man, Mr. Shinker, one last fleeting thought, struggling against his nerves to somehow communicate his sad crush to her, and when she looked back at the grey doctor, eyebrow still arched, she thought, just like a shaped charge.
About the Author: Joseph Hirsch is the author of many books, short stories, and essays. He can be found online @ www.joeyhirsch.com
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