Already, things were starting to move in the hinterlands of his vision; things grown in the undisclosed nature of the blind spot.
He has wound the device by turning the key. The petals of the clockwork flower rotate and what was a sleeping bud opens into a reflective bloom; it began to emit a pulse that was designed to transform any room into a temple with a resonant frequency conducive to lucid dreaming. Already, things were starting to move in the hinterlands of his vision; things grown in the undisclosed nature of the blind spot.
He took a swig from his flask, and he turned on the mixtape of drone music. A travel of electric through the fine hairs that covered his body. A slight shift of him in relation to his body. Was that the wind howling outside? The loose flapping skin of a weather system. He sketched something in the dust on the defunct screen of his computer. When did used future stop being an aesthetic, and start becoming the dish du jour?
Most of his friends lived in Faraday cages now. Soft AI had softened them up for Hard AI and the Algorithm Zombies that policed the neighborhoods. Carrying around a portable EMP was a necessity. The few groups that there were, working together to make it safer for humans, were seen intermittently - Salt Circle Interrupters were one of his favourites - he’d find powered down mechs who he’d steal tech from when he could.
Thomas Kamera stepped outside. His Bounce Suit made him sweat like hell, but if you didn’t have something to baffle intrusive signals, then how could you get to the market? This was his weekly exercise - a sprint through the street, trying to avoid so many predators that you soon became certain of your low place on the food chain.
Had he left the anise flower powered up? He hoped it wasn’t going to bloom past the Faraday Cage, because he knew it kicked out a slightly different energy than what the cage was designed to contain.
Karim from the Feedback Stacks always had the best produce. He liked to imagine the fish dropping their effluent into the plants, and the plants growing to feed the fish, and all the wonderful loops that the science reclamations had managed to revive. He got some stack-salmon and some fennel, and some wild rice from the heli-paddies up on the roof that Wing had been perfecting for the last couple of years, and then he left.
When he returned to his room there was a man sat there. The man was holding the mechanical anise flower. The man was smiling, you could tell, even as his moustache covered most of his mouth.
‘Where did you get this, Thomas Kamera?’
‘How is that any of your business? What are you doing in my apartment? Who are you?’
‘These things, my son, are anomalies. Anomalies beget anomalies - and so, you have me. A man sent to clear them up.’
‘Who are you? Where did you come from?’
‘When the flower, wound, does bloom, find an odd man in your room.’
‘What? What the hell kind of rhyme is that? I’ve never heard it. Makes no sense.’
‘Makes no sense, even now? With me here?’
The flower span, the pulse continued. He wondered for a second if he had ever left the room.
The man smiled. ‘What is the room, Thomas?’
He blinked furiously, the room stuttered, and the image of the man skipped around like an acrobat in a zoetrope. Thomas expected him to disappear, but even with his eyes closed, Thomas knew that he was there. Thomas laid down.
‘The system crashed a long time ago, Thomas. The CCTV in your head is the legacy of forebears who wanted to live through you. The Anise is designed to capture memories from the future and feed the vampire past. We are sucking you back through the causal chain into our guts.’
‘You say we, but then appear as if to warn me. what does that mean?’
‘Ah, yes, well, I am part of the we in one sense, because I am back where the Anise was built, but I am also against them, because I disagree with their mission. I want my children to live well.’
‘Dramatic past doesn’t mean I have to agree with dramatic future.’
‘I suppose not, but is this what you thought it would be?’
Christ - if this was a lucid dream he wanted to turn it off. Bummer visions from the past. Someone in the past was getting some kicks watching him go through this daily boredom? They were welcome to it.
‘You’re looking for a sense of closure and redemption for the fuck-ups you made, and you expect me, who barely has a pot to piss in to furnish you with it? Bit fucking hopeful, eh? Why didn’t you come here with a solution to my problems? That would have been nice.’
The image of the man began to wear thin, and he wondered whether the flower needed winding. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to wind it. He had thought that the Anise was a rare thing, but now he had discovered that it was something that any number of people might have, he didn’t want it quite so much. He took the whiskey he had been keeping for a special occasion, and he dowsed the mechanical device liberally with it. He lit a splint with his lighter and held it over the whiskey soaked mechanical Anise, and then he dropped it. He didn’t know how it worked, but he was hoping it would be buggered after this. He wasn’t sure if the frequency of the device was switching, or whether that high pitched noise was screaming from the periphery.
He opens his eyes. A hand is on his shoulder. A legend is emblazoned in the air above the mustachioed individual that says Test Program One.
The guy with the stache seemed to be decompiling and something new was loading in his place. A woman - wow, that really did seem like a cheap ploy.
‘Hi, I am Emerald.’
‘OK, answer me a question, Emerald - why am I getting you guys beaming in through this bloody thing, when previously it just gave me nice dreams?’
‘I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I’m hardwired in. You saw Mr Amber, and I’m the next stage.’
‘Next stage of what?’
‘It’s already started, you’ve been seeded.’
A nightmare within a nightmare. He pinched himself and he felt numbness. Unsure, something moving in the periphery.
He saw the Feedback Stacks in the distance, he could smell the market, he could feel his bed under him. He was stood watching the girl called Emerald laugh. An afterimage of the man who he now knew to be Mr Amber stood there. And who was this coming into view?
‘What’s your name?’
‘Embolism. I am the end of the road. The whole thing that’s been going has been a purge program trying to kick you out of the Anise. It’s really a neural miner we plugged into your skull after a headshot you got on your way back from the supermarket. You had some obscure insurance policy. When you see Emerald next, you’ll be a relocated consciousness.’
‘Dead. You were caught with contraband mech parts on you as you were going home, and one of the Mallgorithms considered you a security threat and sniped you.’
He tasted something. What was that? Licorice? Aniseed. He heard a high pitched noise, and everything went black. Thomas Kamera saw a flash of light.