Neo Angeles, the future: Doghouse Reilly gets thawed out after 500 years in a cryogenics facility with no memory of his previous life, and only the vaguest inkling that maybe he used to be a cop. He decides to roll with it, and ends up as a gun-for-hire/PI in the employ of one Immaculata Bright, a young woman with aspirations of becoming something other than human.
Neo Angeles, an uninspired moniker for a festering megalopolis reanimated from the bones of the City of Angels. I don't remember the specifics of my old life, but a few hundred years in the deep freeze will do that to you. I have a feeling I used to be a cop, but chances are just as good that I was just another cubical-farm burnout sung to sleep too many times by a six-pack and Law & Order reruns.
It's funny, the things I do remember. The names of TV shows, lyrics from pop songs, my favorite brand of now extinct chips. My name? There's a blank. My old address? Another. Loved ones, relatives? The body and face of a beautiful woman I dream of and wake pawing my pillow, my body twisted in the sheets...might be my last girlfriend, my sister, or mother. The ambiguity used to make me sick, the not knowing, the blankness, the empty spaces where my life used to be. I've learned to embrace it, oddly enough. Then again, the drugs I take tend to subvert the REM-cycle flood of orphaned memories, so maybe “embrace” isn't quite the word.
All I know about it is what they told me; part of the tunnel in which cryobanks 103-107 were housed collapsed in the earthquakes that followed A-Day. We were shielded from the nuclear fallout, but many of our support systems failed, as did the beacon that would someday alert those above ground of our presence. By the time they thawed me out, I was already centuries overdue. I wasn't greeted by much fanfare— just a technician in a grubby coverall and a hardhat with a light on it telling me, in his deadpan, I'm-only-doing-my-job monotone, “Welcome to the future.”
When the first survivors came out of the 'banks long before us, there were parades in their honor, support groups set up to make sure they would make the transition comfortably, government commissions established to offer them jobs as historians and advisers. They were treated like something sacred, come up from the ground after so long, offering hope to the denizens of this overcrowded travesty of a city. They were walking monuments to the errors of the past, reminders of how important it was that we never repeat them.
Me, I was sat down at a table in a slate-gray room and handed a stack of paperwork. Name, former address, former occupation, education, skills. All long empty lines, and destined to remain so. I was given a government allowance, a fresh set of clothes and an address. That was the extent of my welcome. A man from the past immigrates to the future, and is shuffled off to the ghetto.
The more things change, the more they stay the same?
With each passing day, she becomes more machine than flesh.
The thought fills her with glee, and an almost erotic excitement; to finally transcend this body and its base human needs is her ultimate goal. As it stands, she still has to sleep, to eat and excrete, hateful duties carried out with the utmost utility and a measure of shame.
Still, the nanomachines are transforming her, bit by bit, cell by cell, synapse by synapse. It's an unorthodox procedure of her own designing. First came the standard augmentations practically everyone receives; neurocomm plugs to allow her to communicate with others via direct mind-link and access the neural net, the standard 'machine package to help her body work more efficiently healing wounds and fighting infections, the visual cortex upgrade that lets her see in low light and zoom in for more detail. Then came others, black market tech she'd tweaked to serve her purposes, working day and night in the Inner Sanctum, the hermetically sealed chamber she calls home.
Someday, she won't even need this body, this soft mortal shell, this cage named Immaculata Bright. She'll exist as information, a beautiful data collection drifting through the aether.
Open your eyes and breathe.
Daylight, the sun beginning to sink into the horizon, the punishing light of the afternoon still glaring down through the dome, through the maze of buildings surrounding me. Familiar. Painful. Step one accomplished.
Step two should be automatic, but the human body’s will for self-preservation can only be stretched so far. I think mine passed its threshold around the time the first bullet tore into my leg. Since then, I’d caught another slug somewhere in the lower body, and an explosion had blown me through a plate-glass window out of a building.
That takes us to now: I’m thrashing around, gaping like a fish out of water. The nearly foot-deep layer of garbage that covers the slums like so much protective fat saved me from being killed on impact. I’m thankful for the piles of household waste, cast-off packaging, and even the weird, unrecognizable masses of decomposing garbage, until my respiratory system kicks back to life and I suck in a lungful of hot, rancid air.
The oxygen wakes up the nanomachines. I feel them going to work. It’s a strange sensation– but I suppose it feels exactly like what it is; the tickle of tiny machines riding my blood stream like the subway, rushing to repair injured tissue, combining brain chemicals in unorthodox ways to numb the pain.
I love the future.
I’m almost on my feet, floundering in the shifting mounds of trash, when the sound of Bright screaming in my ears– no, in my brain– knocks me for a loop. Now I’m back on my ass in the heap, bleeding like a stuck pig, trying not to think about what’s seeping into my wounds.
I hate the future.
“Stop playing dead– I have your vitals.”
I try to answer her without talking out loud, but even on a good day I can barely manage that. Most people get their neurocomm plugs as soon they can form a complete sentence. I got mine last year. Try learning a foreign language at 30-something. Then imagine trying to learn to speak it with your mind after effectively being in a coma for a few hundred years.
It’s kind of like that.
I think as hard as I can, but the words won’t translate. Struggling to right myself, I clear my throat and speak. “I’m here, Bright. Still kicking.”
“I need to see what you’re seeing. Patch me in.”
“All right, but you’re not going to like it.”