Warped: One – In Space, No One Can Hear You Complain
by Andrea Speed
One – In Space, No One Can Hear You Complain
You knew it was a seedy dive when they had a “lost and found” box full of hands just behind the bar.
You’d think the cybernetic ones would have some kind of identification chip in them, but perhaps not – perhaps they were bootlegs, or illegally modified. As for the organic ones, those might be harder to trace.
The Ignig one was suspended next to the holographic painting, which was now displaying a waterscape that moved with such metronomic precision he was sure he was getting seasick just watching it. The Ignig would never come back for the lost hand, as they could regenerate almost all their lost appendages, which is probably why it was encased in liquid plasticine and hung up as an ornament, rather than sitting piled in box with the freeze dried and cybernetic hands, waiting for some form of reattachment.You might think it was a weird decoration if you’d never met a Ignig before. Their hands were long and slender, the fingers twice as long as the palm and attached to one another through colorful blue-green webbing that went up to the second knuckle. Their middle finger was twice as long as their average finger, and was so slender it looked like nothing more than a strip of skin. It was good they could regenerate such things, as their hands were flimsy little graspers almost useless out of water, and they were forever being caught in doors. In fact, that’s probably how this Ignig lost his or her hand – slammed in a door. That was the number one accident among the breed, although rarely fatal. It was mostly just annoying, much like Humans getting partially sucked into vent intake valves. He heard there was a whorehouse around here where you could actually buy a vent sucking as a scenario.
Khal lounged back in his conformo-bench, which was broken, and permanently molded to what appeared to be some type of crypto-rhinoceros. He knew he was thin – Bruno liked to call him the “scrawny fucking bastard” – but he could have fit three of himself in this easily. It wasn’t comfortable at all; in fact, he considered firing off a complaint to ConformoCo and telling them that their older model Benchy-B2000S was not unlike splaying yourself on the back of a Great Horned Spine Bladder that hadn’t had a shave for a couple of decades. But why would anyone in ConformoCo care? They made fucking loads of cash, and they were probably a subsidiary of MoSys, which guaranteed they’d be set for life, no matter how many complaints they had. Fuckers.
No matter. He sipped his sucker punch, and wondered if this was his third or fourth. Fifth? Who cared? A sucker punch never lost its potency. It got its colorful name from the fact that when you first drank it, it was like drinking nothing. But once the chemical interaction took place inside your gut – roughly twenty minutes after drinking it – all the intoxicants were released in a single hot wave you could feel down to your toes. It was great stuff.
Not enough, though, not today. He could still feel the crowd creeping in, their filthy emotions plucking at him, trying to get into his head, dirty little fingers clawing at the edge of his awareness. Damn it! Why couldn’t they leave him alone?
He pulled a strip of Bliss out of his pocket and let it dissolve on his tongue, closing his eyes in time to see the light show as the drugs met his synapses and washed away all feeling of the outside world. Lights exploded before his eyes, red, blue, and green, his own personal fireworks show, and they blotted out all the feelings he didn’t want to have. Including his own, but seriously, who gave a fuck?
He drifted in a colorful void of perfect numbness for time immeasurable, until he heard a distant voice calling, ”Khal … Khalil … hey, you stupid junkie bastard, are you there?”
“Don’t call me that,” he replied, his tongue feeling heavy and covered with thick, luxurious fur. He then opened his eyes, and realized it was Gen coming in over the subcutaneous comm device imbedded in his jaw. You had to sub vocalize to transmit – speaking out loud in a normal tone was the equivalent of shouting, so he’d probably just screamed in Gen’s ear. Good. “What the hell do you want?”
“I want to know if we’re good to go. Or did you forget you’re not in there just to get wasted?”
He fumbled in his pocket for a stim capsule, grumbling that he had to be passably sober again. He popped it under his nose and inhaled deeply, the amphetamines burning their way through his sinus cavity and straight into his brain, clearing away the Bliss fog he had just induced.
Feelings came back with awareness, the emotions of everyone in this grubby little place. Grubby little emotions, sour and angry and despondent, petty jealousies and overwhelming self-pity. He sifted through all these foreign emotions, these things that felt like a violation of his own senses, determining who felt what, and if they could be considered a threat. God how he hated this. Did he ever ask to be a Negotiator? Fucking MoSys designers. “They’re all Humans, and no one seems especially psychotic. Happy now?”
“Just knock off the drugs and stay sharp until we’re done, okay? It’ll take ten minutes tops.”
He didn’t answer, just grunted, and waited for them to storm in. This bar looked like nothing, and it was – even the fake wood had faux rot on it, which you could tell when you touched it – but the fact that it was a dead spot on the rim meant it was ripe for the picking.
The holo-shield door rippled as Kvec stomped through in all his glory. Everything in the bar, even time itself, seemed to freeze as everyone clapped their eyes on the two meter tall, semi-translucent red form of an Elite Guard. There was a blessed moment of panic induced numbness, but then a wave of fear seemed to break through it all and crashed against him like an almost physical blow.
Some people dove under their tables as he clomped towards the bar, heavy steps sending tremors through the floor.
He liked Kvec for two specific reasons. 1) Being what he was, Khal could hardly read him; he was very nearly a perfect emotional dead zone, which was quite a nice change. And 2) He couldn’t talk.
Those of the Elite Guards – a nameless species, often called “Cryers” as some odd contraction of “crystals” – had no ability to talk. Depending on which origin story you believed, they were simply born that way (this was the “intelligent crystal discovered on an alien world by MoSys“ story), or engineered that way (by MoSys, so talking back was never a possibility). It was hard to believe that MoSys would develop a strange crystal, as red as blood, and give it intelligence simply so it could act as a nearly indestructible army, especially since giving out intelligence wasn’t their strong suit, so he was inclined to believe they found the crystals and simply modified them into a humanoid form. They all looked alike anyways, a series of endless clones, thick but sleek humanoids forms completely made of a semi-translucent crystal that was difficult to shatter, impossible to burn, and immune to such things as discomfort, pain, weakness, and illness. They had no gender either, they were just big rocks, but they all called Kvec a he, because Kvec didn’t like being referred to as an it.
His skin was perfectly smooth and flawless, no seams, a vision of crimson crystal you could almost see through. Nearly pretty, if you didn’t know they were MoSys’s unfeeling enforcers, capable of putting their pretty fists through several layers of titanium alloy. He was wearing the outfit that made him look foil wrapped, the matte silver pants and sleeveless vest that marked an Elite Guard, which was symbolic more than anything else (like a rock needed to wear clothes). Kvec’s face was almost non-existent, also a mark of the Cryers: a lipless slit of a mouth, often impossible to see, and eyes that looked like indents full of crushed rubies. He didn’t know how they saw anything, but then again, he didn’t know how they had developed visual telepathy, their only form of communication.
Unlike a telepath, who could send thoughts and words, they sent pictures – what they were seeing currently, what they were visualizing in their mind. It was really weird; like getting silent home movies in your head whenever he chose to broadcast. Sometimes he could pick up feelings from those, things he knew that other people missed. Luckily, Kvec didn’t broadcast very often.
Gen came drifting in afterwards, with the haughty air of someone who owned the place. Gen was fully male now – he must have dosed on some androgen – and wearing the bland seafoam green jumpsuit of a MoSys functionary, which made his dark brown skin look like rich earth. There was no making the jumpsuit attractive, though.
Seafoam green – seriously now, who thought that was a good color? He recalled some sort of memo about it, that the color was proven to be “calming” in tests, but Khal seriously doubted their methodology. It didn’t calm him; it just made him think of vomit.
Gen had even brought one of those flatpads MoSys geeks used, tucked under his arm like a riding crop. He didn’t whip it out until he reached the bar, where the one eyed bartender was waiting warily, drying the same glass over and over again simply to look busy. “Are you Nathan Huron?” Gen asked, assuming a terse, flat accent of a midworlder. Gen was a natural mimic, but then again, being a Gen-Alt, that came with the territory. His delicately featured face made him a pretty man, and a handsome woman.
The bartender, a grizzled older guy who looked liked he’d had his mug pounded by an enhanced fist once too often, looked at them scornfully with his one cybernetic eye, its pinpoint pupil glowing a sunset red. “If I denied it, would it do me any good?”
“No,” Gen replied crisply, consulting his flatpad. “Now, Mister Huron, it seems that you haven’t been paying your business tax, which you are beholden to do, under section sixteen twenty three B, paragraph three eighteen, subsection sixty seven stroke C -”
As Gen continued his bureaucratic ramble, which was convincing in its droning singsong of absolute bullshit, Huron’s fear turned to panic, then resolved into a fluttery anger, a pale and anemic shade of pink turning to a stunning dark red. “He’s going for a weapon,” he sub vocalized to both Gen and Kvec.
Kvec glanced over the bar, and before Huron realized he’d been pegged, Kvec easily plucked the illegally modified stinger out of his hand and crushed it in his pristine fist, rendering it a bunch of electronic crumbs on the scarred hardfoam bar top.
Without missing a beat, Gen said, “Pulling a weapon on an authorized member of MoSys Internal Revenue Service is a felony under section ten twenty, paragraph twenty two forty four, subsection fifty six oh one slash B -”
People had already scattered out the back, emptying out the bar, leaving Huron on his own to deal with the bureaucrat and his implacable, nigh invulnerable enforcer. It was arguable which was worse.
Judging from the sense of surrender he was picking up from Huron, this would end the way it inevitably did. He would offer a bribe on top of a “base” tax payment. With reluctance, Gen would accept it.
It was a great scam, and had netted them some good money. After all, if you had the right equipment and a fucking Elite Guard, no one asked to scan an i.d. chip. If they figured out later they were phony, what the fuck were they gonna do? Complain to MoSys and get on their radar? Wasn’t going to happen. And if they came after them, at least they actually did have Kvec, who was a good sight better than any other weapon you could have.
Still, if MoSys ever realized what they were doing …
Ah well, fuck ‘em. They already wanted them mind wiped or dead anyways, so what did it matter?
He gulped down the rest of his sucker punch, and convinced they wouldn’t need too much of his services anymore – Huron was completely cowed – he took out an intra-sprayer, placed the blunt needle tip of it against his left eyeball, and released the liquid Bliss into it, the drug riding his optic nerve to complete and wonderful release.
Life was pretty fucking good sometimes. Although not when he was sober.