Page 19: Nanovirus

‘Guys!’ Dennis yelled. Their attention drawn, he extended a closed fist over the table, opening it to reveal four small yellow and black capsules sitting in the palm of his hand.

Matthias watched as the two girls slipped one each from his palm, followed by Dennis himself. Dennis’ blonde companion swallowed hers with a long gulp from a tall glass of dark spirits. Courtney slipped hers between her lips with a sip from a cocktail, which until now had been abandoned.

‘Matthias!’ Dennis resought his attention, extending his palm even further across the table.

‘What is it?’

Dennis met Courtney’s eyes. Her slender arm slinked out to pluck the pill from his palm. She sidled close to Matthias. He leant forwards to speak into her ear: ‘What is it?’ and leant down to receive her reply.

‘Ninety-nine.’

‘Drugs?’

‘Nanovirus. Expands your perception.’

He pulled back to see her enthusiastic expression.

‘It’s safe!’ she exclaimed, holding the pill by his chin.

‘I’m worried about my mods.’

‘Don’t! Who do you think invented it?’

‘Come on, Matthias!’ Dennis chided in the background.

Relenting, he took the pill from her palm and placed it into his mouth. Courtney offered her drink to follow it, and he accepted. Dennis cheered as he swallowed.

While Matthias pretended to take an interest in the broken conversation, internally  he focused on studying the payload. The alcohol and pill sat together in a holding tank in his gut. While he was capable of extracting the potential energy from the food he ingested, there was little of value in a small amount of cocktail, and even less in the pill.

He sealed the compartment and gave the pill a digestive nudge. A swarm of miniature robots raced out and began climbing the walls like bees. He released a small sample of biological material, and observed as they attacked, swamping blood cells with sugars, pumping chemicals to release stored adrenaline, endorphins, and serotonin, a process which in a human might induce a supercharged euphoria. There was something else, dormant and benign, small devices floating like debris. Matthias destroyed the contents of his miniature lab and began constructing a substitute.

A small, smooth hand wearing a single freckle and clean nails caressed his thigh. He looked to Courtney, her pupils dilated like planets, her movements spasmodic.

‘Do you feel it yet?’ she gushed, leaning into him, her face inches from his own.

‘I think I’m getting there,’ he answered. She squeezed his leg and fell against him, resting her forehead on his chest.

‘Are you alright?’ he spoke into her scalp, voice muffled by her hair.

‘I’m fine,’ she answered, returning her face to his.

‘So Dennis says you like guys with prosthetics.’

‘Yeah! Well not prosthetics.. Enhancements! Body mods! He said you have a wicked arm!’

‘Yeah, I do,’ he grinned. ‘I’ll show you later, maybe. Not here.’

She pouted.

‘It would draw a lot of attention,’ he explained.

‘More attention than those?’ she motioned beyond the balcony. Matthias looked to the dancers on-stage. Cosmetic implants boosted the appearance of their faces, lines erased, dazzling eyes, foreign materials strengthening their muscles from the inside, tattoos shifting across the entirety of their skin. Although they were preoccupied with dancing, their eyes were recording everything.

‘It’s a little more dramatic than that.’

Dennis waved an arm in front of their faces. ‘Hey! Guys! Drinks?’

Courtney held up her full glass.

‘Sure,’ Matthias answered.

Dennis’ pupils were also like saucers, his manner confronting, body thrust halfway across the table, muscles tense and energised. He pulled back to depart the table with his friend, leaving Matthias with Stacey who had resumed looking out over the crowd. His substitute virus was ready. A simulation, to carry him into the void.

Page 18: Matthias’ first night out

Matthias found himself standing in the street, metres from the lobby to his apartment building. Hesitating at the lights, he opted to approach the side of the building, and walked around to the rear. Between a chain-link fence and the rear wall, amidst garbage bags and discarded newspaper, he located an exhaust fan connecting to the air conditioning ducts. Kneeling, he pulled the unit from the wall, leaving an open path inside.

A call came through: it was Dennis.

‘Matty!’ Dennis’ voice clipped as he yelled over music in the background. ‘Mecha is having free drinks tonight for those on the list, and guess who’s on the list?’

The breeze swept refuse over Matthias’ feet, his eyes still focused on the hole in the wall.

‘I give up.’

‘You’re on the list, pal. Now get your ass down here, I have a slew of shots lined up for you and I won’t take no for an answer.’

Matthias hesitated.

‘It doesn’t matter about the arm! Chicks these days love that stuff. You can make out you’re in the army. Come to Mecha, right now, or I will disown you.’

Dennis closed the call.

***

The outside of the club was ablaze with coloured lighting, scattered inebriated revellers wandered the streets between two public teleporters. Digital posters glowed from units set into the wall advertising bands and public service announcements. A conspicuous caption warned “DON’T DRINK AND DIAL.”

Matthias squeezed his way through a queue, timid in the face of the loud and drunken crowd. Cash and cigarettes littered the pavement like confetti. He came to the front of the crowd finding a trio of bouncers in black suits guarding the gate. He pressed forwards.

‘Step back.’

‘I’m on the list,’ Matthias replied.

‘I don’t care.’

‘Look my friend told me to come down here, apparently I’m on the list, I’m clear to get in.’

‘Not tonight, pal.’

A fight broke out in the crowd behind him and Matthias was shoved hard from behind. Folding against the gate, the bouncer shoved him aside as the three moved into the crowd. With the bouncers preoccupied and the door unguarded, he slipped the gate and pressed inside.

The doors collected behind him in a dark reception. A bouncer stared at him with crossed arms beside a masked payment booth. Matthias stepped slowly to the counter.

‘Hi,’ Matthias said. ‘Matthias Drake? Apparently I’m on the list.’

‘Yeah, just let me check that,’ the cashier said. Red fingernails scratched at the surface of a keyboard.

‘Paid for by Dennis. You can go in.’

Beyond the bouncer lie a pair of heavy oak doors. Pressing inside, he was dazzled by a massive chamber of shifting coloured lights and lasers, the crowd so thick that walking was like pressing through the sea. Great white lights shot across the room, illuminating dancers on a starfish-shaped stage. In the far corners of the room, barred podiums held women in extravagant synthetic fabrics, a thrashing haze of sweat, skin and tossed hair, eyes glowing, their faces augmented, synthetic tattoos crawling across their skin.

Climbing stairs, enmeshed between patrons, Matthias was studying those faces he could. He was walking along a balcony, a bar by the wall and booth seating by the rail when he noticed Dennis sitting in a booth ahead.

‘Matthias!’ Dennis’ mouth called, inaudible over the thumping beats. ‘Get over here!’

A blonde girl in a faux leather top and short skirt took a shot beside him and coughed, sputtering, throwing Dennis into laughter. Dennis placed a hand on her back and spoke into her ear. As Matthias closed on the table, the face and legs of a brunette emerged from the seat opposite. Her blue eyes shimmered from augmentation, teeth so white they caught the effects of blacklights overhead. She gave him a smile and retreated to the rail, allowing him space to be seated.

Dennis leaned over as he sat down.

‘This is Courtney! She has a thing for guys with implants!’

Matthias gazed on his impromptu date. She smiled and then leaned in to his ear to speak. ‘Hi! I’m Courtney!’

‘Matthias!’

‘You work with Dennis?’

‘Yeah! Natural Robotics!’

‘Where?’

She leaned in so that their torsos were almost touching.

‘Natural Robotics. We make those talking dogs.’

‘Oh, I love those! I have one at home.’