‘DRUG OF CHOICE’ by Adrian Reynolds

Udo sat at the counter in Samovar, making his liquorice tea last just that bit longer. No sign of jobs on the sites he’d been scoping, and his positivity was wearing thin. Which was another reason Samovar was his favourite hangout. The music was chosen by an algorithm that selected tunes for their upbeat elements. Karl was sniffy about that, but he was sniffy about a lot of stuff.

And yes, Udo knew Karl was paying more than half the rent for the fourth month in a row, but Karl had always earned more. Sometimes Udo felt Karl treated him like a servant, expecting things to be just so when he came home.

Actually, if he was a servant, Udo would probably be bringing in as much as Karl. With bots increasingly visible, there’d been a revival in personal service roles for humans supporting quality of life for the truly wealthy.

Jan called. “Got you an interview for a hotel receptionist job at two. Finish your tea, have a shave, shine your shoes. I’ve sent you the route. You’ll need to leave by one fifteen. Good luck.” His sister had positivity enough for them both, no need for algorithms.

 

Coming back from the hotel, Udo pondered what he was going to do next. He didn’t look his age, but when he was calibrated by HR his responses were found to be on the downward slope of the bell curve. Never mind the appreciative references he’d received from nearly a dozen employers – what counted was neural responsiveness.

Udo dwelt on this for a while more as he walked through the city, in the process nearly walking in front of a taxi. That only confirmed the problem, and pointed to the solution.

 

“We prefer not to think of it as a loan. It’s more – an investment in your future.”

“Which entitles you to 10% of my future earnings.”

“People opting for Axiom wafers boost their income by an average of 17 % in the first 12 months after insertion. Think of it as a way of paying in instalments.”

“For the rest of my life.”

“Your working life.”

“Whatever,” Udo’s mouth was dry. ”The…procedure?”

“The wafer can be fitted in about 90 minutes.”

“It says there’s an overnight stay.”

“Matching your neurology takes a while. Think of it like wearing contact lenses for the first time.”

“A lot less easy to lose, sewn into my head.”

The consultant’s smile was glassy.

Like Karl said people with a wafer looked.

 

Less like contact lenses, not that Udo ever used them, than…what, exactly? As soon as he considered it, three analogies popped into Udo’s mind:

Like wearing new shoes.

Like driving a new car.

Like getting an upgrade.

Would that have happened before, or was he being too self-conscious?

He recalled no dreams from the sleep that he woke from next morning.

 

As long as he had all the steaks printing by 5, giving them time to settle before cooking, Udo was confident that he could get through a shift. Restaurant management was a new role, but it drew on all the other work Udo had done, and he guessed the wafer had something to do with it, if only getting him through the door for an interview in the first place.

The way Udo figured it, the wafer was a placebo. It made other people look at him in a new light, for evidence of his enhanced capabilities. And that could only help him feel better about himself, in turn.

Karl had been an ass about it at first, but even he had been won round, saying Udo was taking better care of himself and the apartment now.

 

Udo woke around 3am, a happy tune running through his mind. So why was his mouth dry, his heart racing?

There was a kind of whirring in his head. And a soothing voice, urging him to get back to sleep.

When Udo awoke properly, he launched out of bed and into the bathroom with a vigour that surprised him.

 

“In six months, I increased turnover by nearly a quarter by paying attention to what competitors were doing, promotional campaigns with local businesses, and doing targeted offers for existing diners.”

“You’ve got no history of entrepreneurial ventures.”

Udo smiled. “I’ve been biding my time. Learning my lessons in different sectors, putting together what I’ve learned now that I’ve got a concept that consolidates what I’ve learned running the restaurant, in combination with the other service jobs I’ve done. You’ll find all the figures add up, and I’ve identified the key team members I need.”

“It’s an impressive proposition. And historically, some of our strongest investments have come from people who’ve started later in life.”

“One of the reasons I came to you,” said Udo. That smile again.

 

“I hardly see you any more,” said Karl.

“Why not be happy for me?”

“I’m happy you’ve got something of your own.”

“You don’t look happy,” said Udo.

“I don’t know how much is you, and how much is the wafer.”

“So I’m just the hardware for the wafer to work in.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“What then?”

“It’s not like it was.”

“I’m paying my bills, I have something to focus on. Something for both of us.”

“Both of us meaning you and me, or you and the Axiom Corporation?”

 

So that, thought Udo, was what the end of a relationship sounded like.

He felt desolate, but a picture in his mind presented a better, pixelated, future.

There’d be another time for remorse, if he wanted to bother with it.

Time now to have a look at the first month’s figures, plan marketing for the next quarter. And there it was, just steps away: Caffarsis. His favourite hangout.  The bell rang as he opened the door, and ordered a latte.

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Adrian Reynolds is a scriptwriter who loves working on genre projects. His short sf film White Lily is in post-production, and online sf comic Dadtown is set to launch in July. To find out more, see about.me/adrianreynolds

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‘NOTHING TOUCHES ME NOW’ by Richard David Lawman

It lay on the floor, in thousands of pieces, a shattered symbol of people’s faith in me.  And I watched it, staring for hours, hoping the drugs wouldn’t distract my attention, or cause my mind to dream up blurred visions that would confuse me.  As I watched the clay pot, staring intently for hours, a lump of guilt built inside of me, as piece by piece, the pot reassembled itself, and inch by inch, drop by drop, I was filled with the faith others have shown in me.

Being a creator is scary.  One can’t comprehend how it’s done, as one doesn’t want to become aware of the process, of all the tiny wheels and cogs, their alignment and relationship with one another, or see the blueprint of the mind; because once someone sees the blueprint of the mind, it crumbles away, your awareness of the part of the universe least discovered by yourself will kill you.  It’s like fumbling in a darkened garage for a screwdriver, but realising that the whole point is not to find the screwdriver, it’s to fumble around, discover other objects, put them down, rearrange everything, and then one day you might find the screwdriver – but that’s not the point.  Whatever you do, don’t turn the light on.

I had no idea how I came to be like this, in an old, weathered terrace, red bricked and tired, housing my creations in it.  The lives of those next to me seemed so crushingly plain and unexciting, and frightening, but most of all, alluring.  I knew I needed normality, some mundane responsibility to ground me, but it never seemed to come.  How old am I?  I have no fucking idea, absolutely no idea whatsoever.  Maybe forty, fifty, or even twenty.  I can’t remember.  Nothing in this shell bears any mark of time, no comparisons can be made, no calculations carried out to determine how old this bag of bones is.  But that’s not the point.  But what was the point?  I needed to reach a level, find a place whereby I was unaffected by the world around me, find a place in which I could create my masterpiece, the one that would let me go, the one which I could sell to an art collector for millions, retire and rejoin the real world after so many years.  I needed to find a place in which nothing touched me.  Nothing at all.

The creating happened when it needed to happen, and it came in every form.  I am a painter, a sculptor, and a writer – although I haven’t written for a while.  The problem with my painting and sculpting is the fact that with such acts of creation, came the need for my inner self to balance the world I was living in.  In the heightened ecstasy of creation, came the desire to destroy, to undo and to reset everything so the process could be started over again.  I have no idea how many paintings I’ve painted, but there aren’t many left to show now.  Most of them have been destroyed, by myself, in fits of the most violent temper.  Burnt, on a fire, whilst I wept sorrowfully beside them, wishing I could undo what I had done, but realising, that by this very process, I was undoing what I had already done.  The world didn’t deserve my creations, and with my temper, came a worldly responsibility which compelled me to relieve us all of my hideous creations.

But there was something which stood out, something I had never destroyed, and never could.  It wasn’t made by me, but it was affected by me.  My son made it, years ago, the son I never saw anymore, and fleeting reminders raced through my mind: blurred pictures, muffled voices, echoing and drowning each other out, making it impossible to manifest a figure or a voice in my head, to remember what he looked like.  That was my guilt.  It was something I could never destroy, because my son made it because he had faith in me.  Why?  Again, like with most things, I had no idea.

The gift was a small clay pot.  It wasn’t atheistically beautiful, or particularly well made, it wouldn’t have ticked the boxes those retards who call themselves art critics.  It did its job, like all art should – it moved me.  It made me feel something different, an emotion which dripped bright sky blues into the inky reddy-brown of my world, drop by drop, the colours would change and everything would become lighter and more beautiful.  It made me feel like nothing touched me.

I can’t remember the last time I ate, or the last time I drank or the last time I slept.

The fury came over me again.  It came from the back of my head and rushed forwards, drowning my consciousness with rage.  I tried to fight it, I tried to reason with it, but it made me feel so furious.  It came all because when I picked up my cup of tea the glass coaster was stuck to the underneath, and before I could catch it, it peeled off, crashed down and shattered on my perfectly clean floor.  It fucking shattered everywhere.  I could have remained calm, and brushed the pieces up, but I didn’t.  I threw everything near me at the walls, I grabbed the side table and turned it over, I frisbeed my only remaining glass coaster into the television, spiking the glass and sending a delightful spiders web across the screen.  I tried to fight it but I couldn’t.  Next, I found my hammer.  And then it all really started happening.  My latest sculpture, the bust of Orwell, something I had been working on for months, my greatest work to date, met my hammer and blow by blow, it was reduced to crumbles of marble on my carpet.  A nose lay here, an ear there.  It was horrific.  The tears welled, and I crashed to my knees.  Exhausted, I crawled through the splinters of glass and marble, cracks of the TV glass delicately filling the air.  I gasped for breath, for some sort of explanation; it took me five minutes to breathe.  It wasn’t long before the comprehension of my actions hit me, and sure enough, as it always happened, the rage filled me in seconds again.

I found it and held it, for the last few seconds, this old, clay pot with it’s badly carved inscription, “I believe in you”, and I savoured it, knowing I wouldn’t be able to resist.  And then I hurled it against the wall.

The next morning, I left the house for the first time in months.  It was windy and there was a chance of rain, but the cobwebs, thick and sticky, couldn’t cling to the rafters of my mind.  I didn’t need to comprehend what I saw, for I knew it already.  I savoured every moment of it, as I watched that small clay pot reassemble itself, magically knowing how to piece itself back together, and leaving no traces, no marks, nothing other than another blurred memory thrown into the depth of that haunted mind of mine.  I knew that other’s faith in me would always outlast my own, that without others I was nothing, and that was something, that with a gentleness and a subtleness I always dreamed of, pushed me out, into that dreamland, that state of mind I always fantasised about – and now I could create my masterpiece, the thing people would remember me for.

The end was in sight.

But had I been here before?  How many times had that old clay pot reassembled itself before my eyes?  How many more miracles would need to take place before the message sunk in?  I still had no idea, because as I walked out in the light, I thought to myself,

nothing

touches

me

now

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Richard David Lawman is the chief Writer/ Director/ Producer of ‘The Putty In Your Hands’ production company. He can be found and contacted at  http://richarddavidlawman.com/ and http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/richard-lawman/24/966/182