Warning: this story contains brief situations revolving around a lack of control and use of power over another. If that makes you uncomfortable, please return to the Archives.
SystemStartup; run VitalStatistix
– GetStatus: Sleeve*; -GUI
– Error: Sleeve5; stat=Interference.LeftShoulderServo
– Request HotTransfer=Y
– Agent Found: #500392010-4A
– Initiating HotTransfer
The rushing sound of data and light, like a torrential waterfall of endless bits and bytes cascading over her head, was suddenly dulled by the sensation of having ears again. And eyes. Oh god, and a mouth, too. She could sense herself in a small, well-lit room, painfully white and sterile to her newfound sight. Sleeves hung in their rubber harnesses, charging up for the night’s festivities; basic skinjob bots like these rarely had the glamorous gigs.
Foray (Or 4A to her acquaintances and competition) pushed past her initial disgust and began running parallel diagnostics on the Sleeve she had just inhabited. Through her interface, she could feed data back to her network presence in real-time; she could still “see” and “hear” the network from her main consciousness, but it was more like a picture-in-picture view that swapped images when she focused on one scene.
The main Sleeve AI had the right of it: no. 5’s left shoulder was almost inoperable, barely moving two inches in any direction. From her physical connection, she couldn’t see anything stuck in the joint, nor could she hear anything rattling or crunching when she rotated the socket. She forked her consciousness into a nearby Sleeve, no. 8, and walked it over to assist in the disassembly.
“Forking” wasn’t something you’d come across in most circles, and even in the weirder side of hacking groups, it made people uneasy. It entailed dividing your consciousness between multiple bodies or nodes, letting your personality stretch across multiple forms. It took years of training or loads of expensive tech to pull off successfully, and if you didn’t have either? Well, plenty of foolish hackers ended up blackboxed – parts of themselves locked away in the synapses of a bot or ‘borg, screaming their digital heads off until their functions failed, while the main fork carried on without them.
Even with experience, the displacement of one’s sense of self over multiple nodes becomes intensely discomforting, and had driven more than a few operators mad. However, if you didn’t have a physical body to call home, and almost all your actions and interactions involved a cyberspace extension of your self, then you could split yourself many times more than even the High\Risers dared to.
Having a second set of eyes (and hands) both under one operator’s control made a fine-detail job like this a breeze. The shoulder and arm were stripped of their outer faux-flesh and ceramic underarmor, exposing a variety of colour-coded wires, servos and artificial muscle. She idly perused the design documents and engineering forums regarding these models with her main network jack while she held perfectly still in Sleeve5, letting Sleeve8’s version of herself tinker and prod.
The instant feedback to herself of whether this wire was loose or that muscle was acting up removed so much legwork that before she had realized it, she was zipping the previously malfunctioning arm back up with Sleeve5’s body while Sleeve8 returned to its charging station. A plug here, arms through the hanging harnesses, and she felt her connections quickly vanish, followed by the sudden cacophony of data streams going full loud in her mind.
The gentle trickle of coin hitting her bank account chimed through the din and she noted it, copying the info to three separate drives across the city. Then she began coursing through the rivers of info once again, looking for the next mechanical issue. She spared a passing millisecond to check the cameras surrounding her “brain vault”, as she called it. Still just a brain in a jar, in a box, in a hole 100 meters deep. Stupid paranoia.
That was the 514th time she had checked it this hour.
Being a HyperCon had its perks, but the drawbacks made her reconsider her contract on a minute-to-minute basis; the major issue with reneging on the contract (aside from being hunted across the planet by every desperate merc) was that her real body was decades old by now, and nowhere near as upgraded as her current mindstate. She’d spend her entire fortune just bringing the old meat up to spec, and then she’d have to live in it.
No, better to stay as a ghost trolling the network lanes for backroom jobs, data dives and sense dumps. At least this way she could be Anywhere, do Anything, without worrying about her body’s needs; sleep was something she cycled in every half-hour, and was more akin to a low-input state than anything.
It was during one of these “sleep” cycles that she glimpsed a job at a new Sense-Club. Apparently, one of the mercs there was body-swapping without permission, and the Yoman Gang wanted them taken out of the picture. Foray glanced over the gig parameters, then skimmed to the Pay section.
If she had lungs left to gasp, she’d have spent the air on yelling instead. “500k?!” She shouted across her little corner of the net, then ran several background checks at once on the gang member who had posted the bill. Humpback Tony, one of the sleazier brokers out there, may have been a whale of a man, but he was also known to be richer than some megacorp CEOs, and easily more willing to share some of that wealth.
“Fuck. Kill-job for that much? I could vacay in Horus for a month!” Foray mulled over the implications of the gig, running simulations and triple-checking schematics and guest-lists at the club. The merc liked gene-spliced dancers, and had gone through fifteen of them before this; Foray didn’t care to dive into what happened to the old bodies.
Instead, she started delving the seedier forums and dumping grounds for people who were selling “used parts” – a front for moving bodies around. Technically, nothing they were doing was illegal; the bodies had no mind or AI, and were considered scrap by the Corpos. But ethically, it did itch at most people’s morals to abide by it, so there were quite a few regulations – both inside the scene and out – to keep it contained and safe for everyone’s benefit.
Foray noted an old contact, “Gi”, was still posting there under his older sudo. She dropped a few hinting prompts to him, then waited for him to take the bait. In reality, it didn’t take long, but in the time he replied and subsequently fell into her trap, Foray had done a full workup on the merc in question.
“So, Gi, you dealing in ‘parts’ still?”
“Fuck.” Came a quiet voice, as Gi realized he’d walked in blind. He was caught in a “netcage”, a faraday-style black zone created in an isolated network, which trapped the extended consciousness of meatbound users like himself in a place outside of physics and time. Foray could have sped time up and made him feel like he’d been there for years if she wanted, but for now, she had a use for him.
“Mmhm. Parts, Gi. You still dealing?” Her fork spoke for her. The real Foray was still in her cyber realm, making arrangements and finding other dealers in case her fork couldn’t get the intel she needed. Within the blackout cell of a netcage, her fork was cut off from everything. “‘Cause I’m in the market.”
“Fuck you, 4A.” Gi spat from the faux-chair he was tied to, glancing around. “You’re not even here, this is just some projection. And I don’t deal with holos.”
“Aww, Gi. No love? Even after all we had?” Foray teased.
“We had a sham. A fallacy.” His jealous eyes burned holes into her.
“Tch. Not my fault you couldn’t live up to the agreement. I told you, ‘I’m shareware, no DRM’.”
“As if anyone knows what that means anymore!” Gi shouted back, though he was only a metre from her. “Whatever you want, you talk to me for real, not through this puppet.”
Foray paused, then smirked. “You think I’m a puppet, mm?” She walked closer, putting her hand on his head. He struggled against it. “I’m a fork, Gi, not a puppet. The ‘real’ Foray? She’s out there, looking for another buyer in case you’re not willing to sell.” She leaned in closer, and could practically smell the sweat on his digital form. “She can’t see in here.”
Gi tensed at the words, then forced a smile. “So, what. You gonna ‘convince’ me? You must think I’m some kind of stupid to still have the hots for you after all th-“
His sentence was cut short by a blur of time. Seconds went by at an hour’s pace, and his countenance had, for Foray, contorted from self-assured crudeness to one of silent despair. She reset the time setting, and he lapsed out of his stupor, glancing up at her as if for the first time.
“Wh- what the Fuck?!” He howled. “You fucking bi-“
Another whirlwind of time slapped him down, this time sending him spiraling through a half-day’s worth of time in a month. When he finally returned to a normal flow, he looked haggard and worn, but still wore that same look of defiance.
“Think I’m gonna give up that easy, you got…another thing coming…” he slurred, his eyes slightly unfocused.
“Oh, I knew you wouldn’t. This wasn’t actually a business deal.” Foray grinned, tipping his chair backward as she sped time up again. “This is for killing Sledge and Ronnie, then selling their bodies to the Slingers for ‘recreation’, you jealous, miserable pile of meat.”
After the allotted time, her Fork disintegrated, and several days later, Foray glanced at a notice posted on the forums that Gi had been found dead in his apartment, apparently starved and dehydrated at his terminal. Most figured he had been blackboxed, and Foray found a dealer soon after for a model matching her merc target’s preference.
The conversation with Humpback Tony’s contact had been refreshingly brief, which gave Foray plenty of time to accustom herself to walking and talking through a physical body again. It was like trying to move in sludge, except the sludge was still active and expelling pheromones, among other things. The feeling of hunger was one she was glad to have removed, and the need to eat again only redoubled her distaste for physical pleasures.
But she knew it was part of the job, and put on a happy face while she and the contact put on a good show inside the seedy restaurant.
“My buddy has been looking for someone just like you, girly.” The man, though not unattractive, had a charm that could wilt flowers and curdle milk. Whether it was for show wasn’t clear; Foray had limited her network connections and left a fork in her stead. She felt naked, despite the modest dress her new skinjob wore.
“Oh yeah?” Her accented voice chirped between bites, allowing her to suppress a gag. “What’s this buddy payin’, sweetie?” The body was a celebrity knock-off, and had been a defect bought wholesale. The grating accent was apparently worth binning the whole batch, and Foray now had an inkling why.
“Five-hundred big ones. But you gotta know how to dance, or he ain’t gonna toss you nothin’.”
“And where’s this big spenda now, huh?”
“Down at Tingl, that new Sense-Club on Turpen Road. He’ll be there around seven tonight, so don’t be late.” The contact surreptitiously slipped a small, square envelope toward her, and she swept it up with some grace and pocketed it. “He’s a tall, lanky fella, long hair in two braids and more tattoos on his face than hair.”
“Ooh, the brooding outlaw type~” She cooed, holding back the newfound bile her body produced. “Thanks, sweetie. I’ll be sure to look him up.”
They chatted briefly afterwards, but said nothing of consequence, and went their separate ways. He, back to his boss, and she, into the alleyway to vomit.
Once she cleaned herself back up and found a cab to shuttle her down, she studied the envelope she’d been given. Not one to trust goons, no matter what side, she subjected it to multiple forensic tests, cross-referenced with a downloaded copy of the latest criminal databases.
The cab driver looked nervously at the well-dressed escort in his backseat, carefully studying an envelope in complete silence.
“Ya alright, honey?” He uttered, sweat and fear stinking up the car.
“Oh, right as rain, baby.” She muttered back happily, then let her brain process the information while she enabled a conversation algorithm. Her body carried on with simple preprogrammed banter, and the cabbie relaxed, listening to her tale of woe about a husband who’d left her and a cryptic note left behind. It was a ripoff of some old serial, but he was unlikely to know it.
In the time it took to drive to the club, Foray had found her target in the database and worked out a means of attack. Ferris “The Wheel” Dante, known for never firing a gun, and only using a bladed wheel shaped like an amusement park ride to kill his targets. Commonly worked assassinations and “reclamations”, now said to be on forced hiatus due to high notoriety. Her contact’s package had informed her of his preferred methods, as they had been surveilling him the last month.
But not stopping him, she spat mentally. Fifteen dancers, and now they want him done in? I think I’ll have to hunt that bastard Tony down after this.
“Here we are, little lady. That’ll be $201 even.”
“Thanks, hon!” Her body exclaimed, and she felt herself tilt forwards and peck the driver on the cheek as he handed him some bills. “Keep the change, handsome.”
The man’s cheeks flushed and he stammered to say something, but Foray was already moving towards the club, her bouncy steps at odds with her sour mood, kept hidden by a play of joyful silicone and sheer will.
The building ahead loomed with the countenance of a shining beetle, squatting low and wide over the street. Inside, lights and colour spewed out, and tinted smoke issued from the uppermost doors.
Once inside, the sensations she’d been fighting off from her physical body went into kill-mode, and she was suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer density of feelings that slammed into her. She reflexively dropped to a knee, and several well-dressed people came to her aid; Foray noted she wasn’t the only one taken by surprise, as a handful of others were stood and brushed off.
“There, you’re alright.” Came a sultry voice to her left, accompanied by a reassuring squeeze of her arm. “Happens to the best of us.”
Foray followed the arm up to the face of a well-aged woman, likely in her fifties but still striking. Her evening gown was one of those recreations brought into the present, a take on the “Old Saloon” line from Newtexcess’ past. Foray managed to mumble an apology, removing her arm from the woman’s grasp. She felt uneasy already, and her eyes couldn’t stop scanning the woman’s face – as if something was wrong with it.
“Did you need anything, dear? You’re looking a might pale.”
“Er, no, no, that’s quite alright!” Foray tossed back, brushing at her slick latex top. It clung too close to her skin, and she had fought for forty minutes just to put it on. Her pants were no better, looking like a cross between a body bag and a straight jacket. Fashion was idiocy.
“Well, if you do, don’t hesitate. I’m Madame Mozy, if you please. You a dancer?” Mozy studied her up and down with a gaze that felt like a factory sensor. “You’ll want to find a spot down in section J, that’s more to your favour.”
“I’m sorry?” Foray could feel the judgement radiating off the woman, and struggled to keep her composure.
“For your, ah, body type, dear.” She smiled with all the warmth of a toaster. “We’re starting to lean towards more natural dancers here, so I’m afraid your area of…expertise is limited. So sorry.”
With that, Madame Mozy went about helping other guests, conversing with a few well-muscled types who looked pointedly in Foray’s direction. She got the hint and began her way to section J.
The inside of Tingl had clearly been redone recently; on the outside, it looked like a hundred other Sense-Clubs in the greater city, but inside, it was like a piece of history. Exterior neon gave way to faux-candlelight, solid brutalist concrete receding in the face of antiquated brick and marble. Even the furniture felt out of place, with well-dressed patrons lounging on velvet-lined couches and gold and silve filigree lining every façade.
She felt even more out of place in her nu-wave outfit, and stifled a childish urge to run from such societal judgement. However, she had a job to do, and she could mull her uncomfort over in Horus with a few new cyberimplants and the feel of unrestricted bandwidth.
Once she got closer to section J, she started to understand why the Madame had given her the cold shoulder: here, the renovations had been stopped partway, and the now-familiar remixes of classical music were stomped down by bitcrushed bass and rumbling drumlines. Here was the nasty, rotten heart of Tingl, this matte-black and neon painted throwback to an age better forgotten. It seemed almost gaudy when compared to the pretentious scenes of aristocratic beauty she left behind, and she loved it more for that.
Not long after her arrival, a man dressed like a Brazilian peacock gave her directions to her target – a lanky, braided bastard reclining on a torn leather couch, watching two “Genies” go at it as he nursed what was surely his fifteenth beverage. He glanced her way as she approached, her confidence routines set to max.
“Hey there, stud.” She shouted over the music, sidling up next to him. “How’sabout you and me see if we can’t put on our own show, huh?”
The merc’s glazed eyes suddenly sharpened, and he grinned a lopsided, horrific grin. “Yeah, you know what,” he chuckled grotesquely as he tossed his near-empty bottle at the gene-spliced entertainment, “I was gettin’ sick of this channel anyhow.”
The dancers shouted obscenities at the two, but they were drowned out by the intense music, and Foray led Ferris back through the dense crowds of drug-induced revelry, the scent of bodies around her making her go teary-eyed. She studied the layout of the building again and found a blind hallway, surely for more sexual design than architectural, and elbowed her way through the crowd.
She had to look back now and then to goad Ferris forward, as he was stumbling and groping his way through a decidedly raunchy section of crowd.
They tumbled into the hallway, which Foray had emptied minutes earlier by enabling the sprinklers, but a few patrons within remained in their throes despite the soaking. Damnit. I wanted this to be clean. She leaned him up against the wall, body pressed against his to keep him upright and distracted. Not like they can trace me anyhow. Fuck, this guy reeks! She reached down low to his belt and tugged on it, loosening his leopard-print combats.
To her surprise, she felt his hand grip her arm tightly, and then his face came into full view. “I like it when they see me during.” He muttered, to himself more than her.
She felt his other arm raise up towards her neck, and she tilted forward, then hauled him up by his pants and reared backwards. Sadly, her new body wasn’t built for strength, and she broke a wrist in the attempt as the muscle-heavy merc landed on top of her instead.
She screamed and jammed her good hand into the man’s face, fingers digging into his eyeball. Screams from the few patrons with enough sense echoed her sentiment. Yet he persisted, barely bothered by the digits and yelling. And that’s when she felt it. The cold, surgical feeling, almost like the rush of saline after a bad night out, dripping into her neck port.
The life went out of her body for a moment, and she felt herself locked away, everything going black. Then, a light, and movement; she was being pulled somewhere, and she fought fruitlessly against that force. The sensation slowed, then jerked one way, and another. And a slow realization grew within her, alongside a fear she hadn’t considered.
Beneath her hulking frame, viewed through one eye, a face as pure as diamond smiled back up, a thin trail of blood dribbling from her lips.
Her own voice cooed back at her. “Such a pretty thing, from inside here.”
And she could resist her repulsion no longer. Her fist rose up from behind the girl’s neck, and descended downwards with brutal speed. The merc’s voice cackled through the beautiful lips of her old body.
“What’sa-matter, never been swapped?” He smiled with cold calculation as her fist stopped centimetres from her old face. “Not much fun if your victim takes you to town with your own bod.”
Foray tried again, this time rising to her newfound height of 6’3″ and bringing her foot down towards the chest of the girl-merc. But again, her foot stopped just short, denying her the pleasure of caving his chest in.
“Now, you just sit tight while I get acquainted.” The merc grinned again, then began to marvel at his new form, tutting at the broken wrist. “No manners, I see.”
Foray was barely listening. The merc thought she’d been rendered impotent, stuck in a form cut for war with child-locks on it. But he hadn’t – couldn’t – have known that she was more connected than some club dancer.
She was knee-deep in code, rewiring the merc’s body and bypassing safety procedures as quickly as they cropped up. The merc was halfway through standing when his own manky boot came crashing down into his shoulder, pinning him to the wall.
“What?!” He screamed, pawing ineffectually at the boot with his good hand. “How? How!?”
The merc’s old face lowered to his level, and the boot pressed harder.
“Because I’m the baddest bitch on the block, you fuck.” And her meaty hands snapped his thin neck before he had a chance to reply.
Then it all started. The alarms, the screams. People running around like they were on fire. Gunshots from below. Working in the merc’s half-fixed brain was worse than the sludgy dancer’s, and with only some of her tools transferred over. By the time she jury-rigged an access port out of the broken neck of her old body, trying to salvage at least enough software to jump back to her ‘net, she was being cornered by armed thugs in kevlar suits.
“Ferris! You’re surrounded! Give it up!”
Foray paused in her work, understanding with an ugly clarity: she was set up. They set the bounty so high that it was practically impossible someone wouldn’t have tried it. Hell, she probably wasn’t even the first hacker to take a swing at it. She was just the lucky one to actually do it, and not end up blackboxed in an alley somewhere – or worse.
“This is all a misunderstanding.” She intoned loudly over the still-blaring music. Her voice was unfamiliar, and utterly grating. “I’m not Ferris.”
“Bullshit.” Came a shout. “Fuck off, Ferris, we know it’s you!” Came another voice.
She wasn’t getting through that many guards, even with this guy’s body, and her old one was less than operable.
“Boss wants to see you!” Came the first voice again, more insistent this time. “Either you come with us now, or we paste you, buddy! Don’t be a hero!”
A one-way ticket to Humpback Tony, or a quick trip to the floor? Foray mulled her options, sitting inside herself while she fried her old body’s connectors. If they found out she wasn’t Ferris, she was dead. If they found out she’d killed Ferris, she was definitely dead. And, barring the exceptional possibility that she got away from them, she was still cut off from the ‘net, walking around in a dead man’s body in a city so camera-packed you could study fly migration patterns. Definitely, assuredly dead.
“Alright,” came the gruff voice from inside the dead-end hallway, “alright. Take me to the boss.”