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Vague Visages Short Stories: Only the Names Have Been Changed by D.M. Palmer

A Short Story by D.M. Palmer

The following was posted anonymously to the Under-Vice “free speech portal” Skabruz at 05:37 on 26/9:

Most people leave it too late. They’re too physically or mentally done in to see it through. They still believe they can come out the other end if they try hard enough. So they hold off. But if you hesitate you’re dead meat.

When the time comes, you realise you’re not worth that much to anyone. That moment when you look back on it all, and you realise none of it meant anything, that’s freedom. The only freedom any of us have now. Freedom from care.

Since the diagnosis, I’d been going on SolipShare a lot. My daughter got me a Device. I’d never wanted one before, I’d been happy with my old Polyglot Console, but she told me it would be easier to keep in touch. So I got Device-enabled. She showed me how it works. They have a very simple interface, compared to the PC. They’re designed for kids.

I was stuck in bed all day. I had nothing else to do. So I started posting updates on my treatment, up-slapping cat pics and digils, all the usual shit you do on there.

But then I got invited to join a private group by my cousin, Veryl (she’s always been into all kinds of crazy shit). The group was for something called Secret Tears. It was all about a Secret Tier that operates within Gov. It was a joke at first, reading all these screeds about how this Secret Tier worships the Goddess Nisop and practices mass sacrifice in an attempt to appease Her. But the more of this stuff I read, the more it made sense to me. It connected things in a way I’d never thought about. Veryl kept inviting me to more of these groups, and I felt like I needed to share what I read.

I started making videos, quoting what I read in these groups, then adding my own theories. I started getting slaps and comments. My family asked me if I was okay, but all these people came out of the woodwork to back me up, telling their own stories about the Secret Tier. They started sharing my videos in what they call “the Questioning Community.”

Then I got a MSG from SolipShare’s mod team, telling me my videos had been flagged by their authenticity software for making claims on the public portal which “cannot be verified by any reputable source.” They gave me a permanent ban.

They can’t just cut you off. It’s negligent. It’s immoral. If I was a Kralj addict, they’d at least give me a substitute to soften the comedown. It’s like leaving you in the desert with no water, or pushing you out to sea in a leaking boat.

That’s when I started looking around. SolipShare has a 97% market share, so the surface-level options were limited. Veryl MSGd me and told me all the groups had been kicked off SolipShare because of me, that you never post that stuff on the public portal. She told me a new group had started on the Under-Vice. She showed me how to get down there and find it.

I started to feel stronger. I could move around my unit again. My unit is on the ground floor. My window looks out onto the street. One night, I fell asleep in my chair. I was woken by a light flashing across the wall. I went to the window, and I saw a van parked across the street. Four figures got out of the van. They were wearing Gov.-style, heavy-density skin wraps and holding torches. They crossed the road and came into the building. I went to the door and listened. I heard footsteps coming up the corridor. Then the footsteps stopped. There was scratching, then a deep drilling made the wall shake. I went to the bedroom to get my Scorch-Shiv. I looked out the window and the van was gone. I charged up my Scorch-Shiv and opened the door. The corridor was dark, only the sound of music and shouting from somewhere on the upper floors. I ran my hand along the wall. My finger fell into a small indentation.

There’s no doubt. SolipShare belongs to the Secret Tier.

What I’m going to do next is for everyone who’s been evicted from their own life because of language. They shouldn’t have the power to do that to us. Nobody should be able to exclude us because they disagree with us. Judge us by what we do, not by what we say. We reserve the right to say whatever we feel.

We reserve the right to ask uncomfortable questions. And if you take away that right from us, we have a duty to act.

*

The anonymous poster was identified as: Cord Fromkess.

Fromkess began searching the Under-Vice bazaars. He made contact with a vendor. A transaction was agreed and a meeting was set up. The meeting took place at a golf supplies store (a known front for the anti-Gov. group known as the Garden of Reality). The delivery girl was Luxor Biroc (a known member of the Garden of Reality’s youth wing, the Seedlings). Fromkess and Biroc made the exchange: Fromkess gave Biroc two-fourzero Fee@ vouchers (Fromkess had made a series of withdrawals from his Big-Cash Lejr over the previous seven-days). Biroc gave Fromkess a ball covered in MoCho Semi-Rib wrappers. Biroc informed Fromkess they didn’t handle installation.

Fromkess took the ball back to his unit. He peeled off the layers of MoCho wrappers until a small grey box was revealed. He lifted the lid of the box and looked inside.

Fromkess went back to the Under-Vice bazaars. He made contact with another vendor. A preliminary consultation was arranged. The consultation was conducted in a room at the Vashtuk Hotel. The contents of the box were inspected by the consultant (a struck-off doctor called Brace Archon). A price was quoted.

Fromkess made the down payment, and a date was set. Archon informed Fromkess they didn’t handle travel.

Fromkess made another series of withdrawals from his Big-Cash Lejr, totalling five-fourzero in Fee@ vouchers (this was the remainder of his settlement from the class action negligence suit against his former employer, Tentaclos).

On 13/9, Fromkess booked a CO-ORDOS Cab to take him to the border of the Liminal Regions. From there, he travelled with busloads of auxiliary staff returning from the Productivity Zone. He passed through the various nostalgia hamlets that make up the Liminal Regions until he came to the final nostalgia hamlet, the Social Commons Paradigm.

The Surgeon operates here. (The Surgeon was struck off for his involvement in a bio-shuffling ring servicing high-echelon clients.) Fromkess spent six days rehabbing in the Surgeon’s post-op lodge following a successful procedure.

When Fromkess returned to his unit, he slid out the storage slots from the bedroom wall. He took out their contents, piled the clothes on the bed and threw the rest on the floor. What was on the floor — greeting cards, certificates, watches, passports, jewelry boxes, photo albums — was taken to the kitchen and sent down the ejection slot. The photo albums were too big to fit into the slot, so he had to remove the photos and feed handfuls of them into the slot. He pushed the furniture in the living space against the window. He caught his breath, took his meds, carried the clothes from the bed and laid them on the floor of the living space.

At 09:21 on 26/9, Fromkess lined up to enter the western inlet of the Productivity Zone. He was wearing the suit that he last wore at his wife’s funeral five four-weeks ago. The suit was too large. He reached the perimeter fence and entered the processing hold. He was scanned and cleared to enter. He moved out of the hold onto the central piazza. Visitors posed for pics in front of a fountain modelled on the Fontana dell’Acqua Paolo. Programmers sat at tables under yellow parasols. Auxiliary staff polished the checkerboard tiles.

The SolipShare campus is enclosed in the body of a transparent Hercules beetle, whose extended wings form walkways from east and west. Fromkess entered the western concourse. A group of algorithm negotiators crab-walked across the concourse wearing VR headsets. Visitors were uploading startup proposals to the Disruption Deck (above the deck is a quote from Captain False Flag: “the hankering of the mind is irresistible”).

A reception console moved towards Fromkess and blocked his progress. A wombat rose from the console’s display. The wombat’s eyes flashed as it performed a facial scan. The wombat informed Fromkess that he did not currently possess a valid SolipShare ASSOC, but he could begin his reinstatement claim by rubbing the wombat’s tummy. Fromkess told the wombat he’d already tried that. The wombat asked Fromkess if he’d like to supplement his claim by shooting an apology for the mod team. The wombat’s eyes merged to form a lens. Fromkess turned away from the console and walked towards the Disruption Deck. The console followed and maneuvered to face Fromkess.

Fromkess began to shout at the wombat: that he had nothing to apologise for; that he refused to grovel for the mods; that he knew what the Secret Tier was doing. The wombat informed Fromkess that his heart rate was elevated and his breathing pattern was irregular. Security personnel began to circle.

Fromkess ran amongst the algorithm negotiators, who were jumping and ducking in unison. Security personnel advanced.

Fromkess broke away from the algorithm negotiators and crossed the concourse to a travelator. He ran down the moving walkway, pushing past passengers, pursued by security personnel. The conveyor deposited Fromkess in the central vessel, which distributed SolipShare’s programming cells to their tiers.

Fromkess activated the subcutaneous trigger in his wrist, and detonated the organic frag-bomb the Surgeon had installed.

Thousands of calcareous love darts burst from his chest and stomach. The darts were propelled in multiple directions.

The beetle’s shell was not compromised by the detonation.

*

An emergency meeting was convened. In attendance were the heads of every Gov. Dept and the Chief Directioneers of the companies operating in the Productivity Zone (SolipShare, Flowtilla, Apep, Faraday and Josl). The table joined hands and gave thanks to Nisop for the growth She had bestowed on them.

The meeting was chaired by INTAB Comity Tsar, Shrieve Prekop:

“I won’t keep you any longer than necessary, so… The Productivity Zone is still on lockdown. We’ve set up patrols on the Shreem Development. It looks like our guy was a lone nut, which is obviously unhelpful. We’re doing analysis on the bodies, but it looks like the weapon was composed of natural materials, thus making it untraceable. We’re checking up on heliculture wholesalers in the area. We need to get on top of the narrative, so I’ve reached out for bids. We’ve already received some presentations, so if we could…”

Prekop gestured to the door. The lights dimmed, and the screen on the far wall lit up with the Gov. insignia.

A series of slow-motion images set to an upbeat melody: black-clad, masked figures smashing rows of windows with bats; the same figures engaged in a street battle with Comity Squad operators; a burning car rolling down a smoke-filled street.

The narration begins, its female voice is soft and deliberate.

“We may not be the biggest organisation, but our vision is immense. What we lack in numbers we make up for in a fanatical and fearless pursuit of our objective: the destruction of your corrupt and collapsing social order. We are the most exciting new brand in the insurgency sector. We are, in a word, real.”

The voice slurs and slows to a growl and the image pixelates. The image begins to stabilise. From a swirling grey murk emerge the outlines of figures: ranks of marching Seedlings.

“We are building for a chaotic future.”

The Garden of Reality insignia flashes.

The lights in the room went up.

“So what do we think?”

Despite presentation packages being submitted by the New Posadist Tendency (NPT), the Voxilite Front (VF) and the Ray-Fel Movement (R-FM), the Garden of Reality’s innovative pitch impressed the Dept. heads. The Garden of Reality was awarded the right to claim credit for the SolipShare Campus Outrage.

D.M. Palmer (@MrDMPalmer) is a writer based in Sheffield, UK. He has contributed to sites like HeyUGuys, The Shiznit, Sabotage Times, Roobla, Column F, The State of the Arts and Film Inquiry. He has a propensity to wax lyrical about Film Noir on the slightest provocation, which makes him a hit at parties. The detritus of his creative outpourings can be found at waxbarricades.wordpress.com.

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