After we have sex, she sits upright in the bed and I see her transferring most of my Units somewhere.
“It’s an app my pimp forced me to install in my Conduit,” she says over her shoulder, “It’s some behavioral mod that makes me pay him his cut. Sorry, I have to do this.”
I lie there and watch. It is over in seconds. It is a smart system. Her pimp has probably overridden her Conduit’s controls with the app, can track her and has the password for the uninstall or disabling. He probably recorded us moments ago and will save it somewhere for potential later use, or sell it as porn to voyeurs on the other side of the Galaxy.
Civilisation is rotting, but we have an app for that too.
I mentally check my Conduit. The neural paths in my brain that connect to implanted device and the Web find no new messages, but a bunch of spam and some toxic viruses that they have blocked.
A bit later that night–it is almost always night on this wretched planet–I am walking through the bustling, neon streets when an advert flashes into my mind. A beautiful woman is asking to sleep with me by name. My metadata from earlier has obviously already been sold or shared, and the scanners in this location have profiled me.
I block the alluring images simulated in my eyes and keep walking.
A bunch of deep space miners stumble by with women in tow. The women register in my Conduit’s search as prostitutes. The miners are drunk. Miners are always drunk, but their shifts out in the asteroid belts can last decades so I suppose they have to make use of civilisation when they are back in it.
“A drink and download?” blasts into my ears. Arrows flash in my mind and a light display showers down over a dingy pub tucked into the back of an alleyway.
I mute the push app from the place, and the light show disappears too. Overhead a starship is flying low to dock at the city port. The starship’s burners are growling blue fire as its anti-gravitation kicks in to slow it down post-orbit.
A quiet drink would be nice and I’m short of bandwidth. So I decide to wander down the festering alley and into the shady establishment.
“What poison will you be having,” a skinny, tattooed bartender asks me, his body mod circuitry softly flashing, “and will you have a drink?” The small pub is absolutely empty, save for the two of us and a cleaning bot humming in the background.
I briefly wonder what his body mods actually do, but then answer, “Gimme a clip library and ten Unit’s worth of whisky.”
He nods and almost instantly I have a link appear in my inbox in my mind. He pours some cheap-looking whisky into an unhygienic-looking glass and slides it my way. I flick a thought his way and eleven Units flow out of my mind and into his. He barely acknowledges it and turns away to replace the bottle behind him.
The whisky is foul, but I have an app for that. The app rearranges the neural paths from my taste buds and suddenly I am tasting this liquid as the finest, single malt. Although the taste is simulated, the alcohol is real and I can feel its fire trickle down my throat and into my belly.
I lean on the bar and follow the link in my inbox. A library of sordid videos appears in my mind. Sex of all sorts in all forms that I could ever desire.
Sipping the illusion of the fine beverage, I filter through the endless gutter library and then stop.
It is not even the most recent addition despite happening little over half an hour ago, there it anonymously is: “POV_prostitute banged in hotel room“.
I recognise her face in the clip. It is the prostitute from earlier. And then I see myself walk into the hotel room. God, I look old and weather. I do not want to see what I look at during sex.
I try to stop watching, but something is wrong. The clip flickers off and I am staring at the tattooed barman, his bio-circuitry lighting up. I cannot move. I start panicking, but it does nothing. There must have been a virus in the clip I watched! Or…?
“…sure, and no one ever scans the whiskey. Tastes so bad, they never know what’s in it,” the barman is saying to someone behind me, “Yeh, OK, we’ll just move him out back where you can start–wait! Cops coming! Didn’t you turn the push notification off? OK, just do it now!”
And then my mind explodes. Searing, unbelievable pain shoots through the back of my brain to the front like a white hot lance. I can hear myself screaming, but it is getting dark and I am losing consciousness. The last image I see before the darkness takes me is the same girl that I am now seeing three times within the last half-hour: she is leaning over me, kissing me as the bio-circuitry man is laughing in the background.
“Fuck!” the detective exclaims as he comes back to reality, “the death parts still get me when we watch these cache clips.”
“You get anything from the clip, sir? What did he see just before he died?”
The question is met by silence as the detective pinches the bridge of his nose with his eyes closed. He then sighs and nods.
“It’s the same guy-girl pair as we found before. The one marks the target and the other sets a trap to disable him physically so that the Units and whatever-else-they-take can still be extracted while he is still alive. They jack knife the victim and then disappear to another district and eventually another planet.”
“But why bother marking him beforehand or doing all the recon work and so on? Why not just do it all upfront? Or even remotely?”
The detective shakes his head and stands up to leave.
“Because they are running a franchise, kid. It is all part of the fun, and the fun is being recorded and broadcast to millions of twisted fucking clients dotted through the Galaxy. It not about the Units they get when they jack him, it’s about the rush of the hunt and the take-down of the prey that entertains the millions of adoring fans out there…”
The detective’s rant falls quiet. He starts to walk out of the room, but then pauses at the door clutching its frame. He turns around slightly and begins to softly talk, almost to himself.
“It’s all just good streaming, kid. I have a hunch that if we catch this guy-girl combo, we’ll find high-grade behavioural mods in their Conduits forcing on them their roles in this story. And if we then follow that code, I have a hunch that we’ll eventually wind up in the studios of some multi-national media agency where some suit is narrating this very story to entertain his VPN clientele. And, kid, that is the scary thing here, our overpaid bosses are probably customers of this very crime,” he turns, starts walking away and shouts back before he is gone around the corner and lost into the maze of the Precinct, “Civilisation is rotting, kid, and we ain’t got an app for that!”