Cyberscum and Blues
rating: +12+x

"There are places worse than Hell, my friend," the Drifter told me. "I have seen many of them: the breeding pits of Horu-Rabella, its screams never-ending; the Dead Zone of Krolov, inhabited solely by the ghosts of war and extinction; the Pantitlán metro station at rush hour. Still I find myself at a loss for words when describing the utter misery and decay of the world you plan on visiting, that small planet of perpetual purple skies the people here call New Gomorrah."

There we were, sitting on the ringworld's spaceport as we each waited to board our transports— mine headed for a wretched hive of scum and villainy, Ulak's bound for some poor planet in the process of being eaten by the Immortal Empire. I really couldn't tell which one of us had it worse.

"Bet you ten bucks I'll find it lovely," I retorted. "Currency of your choice."

"Ha! I know better than probing your concept of lovely, Duke. I have been everywhere you can imagine and have yet to meet anyone else who would jump through a Way while high on Vespera just to see pretty colors."

"Ain't nothing wrong with smoking some wasp weed now and then, Ulak! Adds to the flavor."

The Drifter laughed and got up, his flight's boarding time ringing on the spaceport's speakers. Time to say our goodbyes.

"Remember what I told you: keep your head low and your voice even lower. You do not want any eyes on you once you are on those streets."

"I packed a gun, remember?" I flapped open my coat and pointed at the holster hanging at my side, the weapon's ivory handle gleaming with the threatening aura of instant death, cold metal ready to pump hot lead into some poor sucker's skull. "Just as lethal as that huge-ass book of yours if you dropped it on someone's head."

"And here I thought you had only brought drugs."

We hugged and he slipped into the crowd of alien shapes and sounds, off to record whatever he came across next.

I pondered my next move. Getting to the frontiers of the Immortal Empire had been the easy part — such is the advantage of hitching a ride with someone who can open Ways without Knocking, like Ulak — but now I needed to draft a plan. I had a gun, a suitcase with three sets of fresh clothes, a recorder, a pen, a notebook with the pointers Saturn Deer gave me, five hundred Imperial credits, two packs of Man-Borough cigarettes, a pocket knife, and a fannypack about to burst with Naxatras and Snapper. Best choice was to book a hotel room as soon as I made landfall, then make my way to the viper's nest. Probably a good idea to keep the drugs on me on all times; I might need a bribe when I got there.

An announcement came through that my flight had been delayed, so I walked to a nearby eatery. I ordered some Desolen snails and killed time by watching spaceships come and go through Tannhäuser Gate, their reinforced hulls glistening with cosmic fire against the pure blackness of space. Sometimes one needs no acid.

The second I stepped out of Blue District's spaceport I realized Ulak had not been exaggerating about the hell that is New Gomorrah. Towering phalluses of glass and steel dominated the cityscape— corporate buildings one and all. On every direction my eyes pointed to, bright holographic advertisements floated freely on the air, polluting the planet's purple sky as luxury vehicles swarmed through them like fish in an ocean of noise and light. Grey men and women paraded before me in expensive suits and ties, flaunting leather shoes and silk handkerchiefs like plucked birds who still believed themselves beautiful.

It dawned on me that I stood amidst one of the oligarchic hellholes my bad trips had warned me about. It was nauseous, maddening to see, a vulgar spectacle of acquisitive might, a tasteless display of wealth and power.

"Shit!" I blurted out in shock as my lagging brain finally processed the horror at whose doorstep I stood. A few heads turned at my profanity, but none seemed to really perceive the reptile who had uttered it. It was like I did not exist, like I was another one of the advertisements plastered on the fabric of this insane reality I had the misfortune of entering sober.

How on Midgard had I failed to realize where I'd make landfall? Had my agent booked the wrong spaceport? Had I not been clear about avoiding capitalist septic pits? Did I have enough Naxatras to survive this ordeal? Too many questions, too little time to figure it out. I had to move fast before the corporate animals smelled my blood and came after me. I approached the first normal-looking individual I found — a lean thing of many eyes and mouths — and asked where I might rent a vehicle. The creature took its time to focus all its eyes on me, its pupils dilated into a black expanse of unfathomable depth.

"Not here, not with what creds you got," they exhaled through their dozen vocal openings, their words slurred and paused. "Best to take the train. Those are cheap…"

I thanked them, though I couldn't resist asking what they were doing on Blue District, risking contracting the disease afflicting the suits, the ill of greed and consumerism.

"Pretty lights… make eyes… tickle…" they responded, eyes unfocusing back towards the neon advertisements. I could tell they were high off their ass, something I very much respected. I bid them a one-sided goodbye and took off, looking for the sign reading "metro" amidst the nightmarish orgy of corporate sights.

The underground of Blue District was similarly crawling with suits, coming and going like termites in pursuit of their next mindless goal. Their world doesn't have individuals, only empty carcasses who will do anything to fulfill their productivity quotas, obedient drones who blubber on about interest rates and profit margins, flesh marionettes whose single drive is to serve The Man. So I boarded a train and stayed put on my seat as the tide of alienated imbeciles marched past me, hoping to reach some other kind of hell, one where I did not see my nemesis on every corner.

Seated close to me, a pair of bureaucratic flesh puppets droned on about The Man's newest edict — some senseless number crunching they derived no benefit from — like it was some great cosmic phenomenom. I would have pitied them had their voices not been tinged with idiotic pride, the slave mentality taking over to make them feel like illustrious men of wealth and taste instead of nameless cogs in the uncaring machinery that was their life and planet. Fuck them. There's nothing worse than a slave who suckles the boot like a foal on its mother's tit.

"Did you hear about the merger?" one said in hushed voice, as if thinking his colleagues might be eavesdropping instead of obfuscating themselves in their own petty realities. "Prometheus' stock is mile high! Fuck the higher-ups for not biting in when they had the chance! Can you imagine if they'd listened to us? We'd be riding hovercrafts instead of riding the metro with the freaks."

I could have taken out my gun right then and there, made my way to the front of the train and emptied the magazine into the control panel, sending us all to a fiery grave, free from The Man and His bootlickers. It would be a better fate, a mercy for these unworthy worms that squirmed in delight when the boot crushed them, when it rose again to kick dirt into their faces. I would go out in a blaze of glory, burning out and taking the drones with me, a heroic gesture born of despair. What would my obituary read, if not the praises of the few madmen who understood my agony at the suits' incessant blabbering? But then again, what good would that be with people as replaceable as these fucks? The Man would find new slaves to spread His evil, and the machine would turn again. Gods have mercy on me.

The suits eventually diminished, replaced by a far more interesting crowd: a heterogeneous horde of cybernetic people, glittering and flashing with a thousand aftermarket and off-the-shelves augments, a congregation of youth and insanity. They were magnificently decadent, flourishing like fungi in a derelict sewer, the sons and daughters of this godless neon world. From the train's corner, wild laughter emerged followed by applause: a woman in a bright pink bodysuit displayed her augments — spider legs that popped from her shoulders — to the delight of the crowd gathered around her like vultures eyeing the dying. Close by, three creatures plugged tubes into the gaping metal holes in place of their mouths, pumping a fluorescent green liquid from a shared canister; their eyes lit up and vents located somewhere on their spines flared with neon fire.

More and more joined the fray, pacing about and brooding, flashing their cutting-edge plastic and metal firmwares, all seamlessly welded into skin and exposed in tantalizing treat for the curious eye, ranging from the simple and elegant to the outrageous and eccentric. These were the sights I had come for, the bastard children of high tech and low life, the living runway that blurred the line between militaristic commercialization and artistic nihilism. To them, augments were more than just fashion statements or necessities: they were a way of life, clothing, cars, accessories and whatever else the zeitgeist demanded, signs of individuality for a lost generation. In this crowd, identities were reflected by every cog and wire, by every cyber-arm and positronic brain. I gazed at them in mad, disgusted love.

The one sitting closest to me — a gangly human girl that couldn't be more than twenty Earth years old — pulled out a syringe filled with liquid fun and hit a vein on her forearm. Her grin grew wide and she howled in shameless ecstasy, her comrades cheering her on as the train pulled away from the station and onto its next destination. Inspired, I reached for my fannypack. When in Rome…

I exited the metro on St. Gibson, mostly because the tunnel walls were sufficiently graffitied for me to know the place was a shithole. Back on the surface my theory proved correct: the stench of open sewers gouged tears from my eyes as my nostrils desperately begged to be asphixiated with Snapper, a great cloud of noxious vapor ominously looming over the maze of brutalist buildings that sprawled far beyond the horizon. What cyborgs pullulated here were the very definition of obsolete, clockwork and brass laments of an age before New Gomorrah, before the corporations sank their filthy mandibles into the virgin flesh of this world like monstrous ticks and bloated themselves into perpetual domination. Here lay the foundations of what was once a haven for the first and most devout worshippers of Mekhane — the Cogwork Orthodoxy — now obsolete and forgotten, left behind to rust as their world moved on without them.

Here, on the world it had founded, the faith of the Broken God seems more fragmented than ever, their primordial fraternity replaced by cold indifference and individualism. All throughout the planet, the Maxwellists live in content conformity, happy to keep trying to compile their god even as the balance of power continues to shift away from the transhumanist principles they so devoutly preach. Hooked up as they are on high tech, addled and addicted to every new upgrade and gizmo the corporations pop out, they care little for the members of the faith unable or unwilling to keep up, those who will not pimp their bodies to fit the demands of their new oligarchic masters. Adapt or die has become a motto cultivated into a way of life, an excuse to forsake oneness, to forsake WAN.

I tried to find some profound philosophical meaning to all of it, some sort of reflection on how obsolescence gets all of us in the end, but I came up with nothing: it was a depressing state of affairs, but I was not here to wallow in the history of this world.

First hostel I found, first hostel I checked into: a seedy edifice that grew off another concrete colossus like a pulsing tumor. The ugly bastard at the front desk asked no questions, told no jokes; he simply gave me a key and barked the floor number as he pointed to the dingy elevator around the corner. He didn't mention how outlandish I looked in my leather jacket and jeans, but I heard him grumble "fucking tourists" as I made my way. Man was right: I would need to get some clothes that allowed me to pass as one of the cyber people if I was to succeed on my mission. A gawdy stranger asking questions and pointing a recorder at people was as likely to get his skull kicked in as an anti-drug spook in a low-life bar.

My room had what was undoubtedly the most privileged view on the entire block, meaning I had an actual balcony on which to smoke and not just some ill-conceived window dug on the wall. I lit up a cigarette just as it began to rain, a cliché so disgusting that I almost went back inside to set off the smoke detectors, but the Snapper I'd inhaled had not yet worn off: it would have been a waste not to use my altered state of consciousness to gaze at that weeping purple sky.

Snapper is a funny drug. Doesn't quite have the hallucinogenic punch of Naxatras, but it'll give you hyperfocus: sight beyond sight. Sight into what is the question. Have some good luck and you'll find some answers for the questions you didn't know you had; have a bad trip and you'll end up confronting the worst parts of yourself, the regrets that weigh you down and tear you apart. Worth the risk, if you have the guts: I've heard of men achieving inner peace when high off it, of mere mortals transcending if only for an instant. Revolutions have sparked from less than a good drug trip, so here's to hoping someone eventually finds the perfect poison against The Man while riding the rainbow. High only lasts so long, unfortunately, and the comedown syndrome will kick you like a mule, snapping your brain back into reality without a second to cling to whatever astral revelation has been vested upon you.

That'd happen to me any moment now, my brain dumbed down back to its usual levels, exiled from its misused clarity. I could feel it coming, prowling after me in this dreg of a place where acid rain tapped on the heads of new and obsolete cyborgs, where greed was the law and life knew neither night nor day. And so I smoked that melancholy cigarette on the balcony under the purple sky and waited for an epiphany that I would never get.


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