Order of the Stone book 1 – The Dreaming Crystal – Another sneak preview

Sometimes I’m prob’ly a bit stubborn for my own good. Before the lib’r’y turned pay-as-you-go and, let’s face it, heh, after it turned pay-as-you-go too, not that the fuzz ever copped – geddit? – on to that one, I read that you should exercise. ‘Eah-nah-yeah, I knew you c’ld j’st take the pills and end up jacked, shredded, skinny, bulimic, ultrathon fit or skinny-bulimic-ultrathon fit (but prob’ly not jacked, then) at the same time if you were weird enough to want that. But I swear those things gave me headaches even though, apparently, they’d been tested not to. But the corporates who sell them would say that wouldn’t they. Nah, fuckit. I was sticking with my exercise; walked every day, weights in the health-hazard shitbox block gym every other day and a few kaze on the anteek treadmill which I got back to working, in between days. Since when did we evolve from monkeys in trees and stuff to taking pills? Bullshit. Whadever a bull is.

That’s why I was out in the rain when maybe even I should o… have…. whatever, should’ve been. It was a stonker of a storm! A bloody baaa-yeauty! I actually cou’n’ see a medre in fronna me. I’d just gotta new set of overs on takeout points from K-Bell corp (the wankers). Too bad for them I hacked their delivery network with a virus built by yours truly so the points were…. Well, heh, they weren’t.

Yeah-nah-but anyway, I was warm as a motherfucker in a maternity ward and dry as some richfuck’s penthouse, on my walk that day. Just that I couldn’t see through the rain. And the wind! Man! I actually was gonna just head back and let Tina laugh her arse off at me for being a stubborn dick, not that I would’ve minded since she was basically a good girlfriend. It was just about blowing me sideways and definitely not in the good way.

And then I stood in a puddle that prob’ly wasn’t even there a second ago. I was walking the pavement outside the Cornwall estate. The rain was shitting down with the wind blowing it from all directions at the same time and I coul’n’ hear jack all. It was freaky-cool looking up through the high-rises either side of the road, ‘cause you coul’n’ even see the tops through the rain. There would just be a drone now and again appearing and flying off into the grey again, or maybe just its red light if it didn’t get close enough for me to see the whole thing. I’d got to the bottom of the hill and I could feel the cold of the water ‘round my ankles a bit, even through my flash new gear.

So I was standing there thinking now would definitely be a good time to turn around. I was trying to look down the road ahead to see how far the flash flood’d spread, whether I could at least go to the corner and back up the other way to get a bit more mileage in, or just cut it short and bugger off back the way I come. I’d pretty much decided on the latt.. lates… on the second one then I heard this cunt shouting at me.

‘You! Oi! What did you do that for?’

I couldn’t exactly hear where the voice came from but it soon came again.

‘Hey! I’m talking to you, arsehole!’


I turned around and there was this dork getting out of his car! GPS must o… must’ve been off. That or he was doing something shifty and didn’t want the car to record the address he was going to. Which he prob’ly was because he was a richfuck and they’re all into fucked-up shit. I could tell he was money ‘cause he wasn’t getting out of an uber like normal people would. If I pinged his car for the reg an’ all that, I prob’ly could’ve even worked out who he was since there was so few private vehicles in Auckland Island nowadays. If the car wasn’t proof enough, the overs he was wearing clinched it, ones like mine.

He’d got out of his car and was waving back in the door, arms like spastic limp cocks. Honestly, I di’n’ have any idea what he was on about ‘til I saw the drops on the seat.

Well what the fuck’s your bladder problem gotta do with me pal?

‘What did you do that for?’ He shouted through the storm at me.

I couldn’t see his face through the rain through his overs visor but he sounded pissed.

I tried to stay cool and used my suavest voice. ‘Chill man. I didn’T do anything-K.’

‘You bloody well did so! You waited ‘til I opened the door and splashed bloody water into my car!’

‘I didn’t.’

Why the fuck would I do that?

‘You did bloody so! I’ll get your arrested over this, you know! Bloody rough elements ‘round here, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself!’

Now you’re being a massive dick.

‘Look, seriously, man, I di’n’ do anything. I di’n’ even see you through the rain – look at it! How could I of? – ‘til you yelled at me. Sorry, I di’n’ mean t’ wet your seat an’ all that, I honestly didn’t.’

‘Bullshit you didn’t, you lowlife thug. I’m calling the police.’

Well fuck this.

I just shrugged my shoulders then turned around and walked back the way I come. No way he’d call the cops for that. Who would do that? The water would’n’ do any damage anyway. His posh bloody seats would o… would’ve all been nano-tech, they’d’ve dried ‘emselves and laid him a genuine fuckin’ egg and fried it for his lunch before he got back from his dominatrix or whatever the fuck. Jesus!

‘Cept he did. He actually did!

I felt the arrest come down on my tech as soon as I walked in my door. I was gonna peel off my overs and go straight next door to Tina’s. Ok, I got my overs off but then my arms and legs locked up and I suddenly felt like puking with the tightness in my gut. I coul’n’ even put my overs back on before I was marching like I had a carrot up my bum. Back out my shithole apartment door, down the mildew-stinking hall, past the door t’ the on’y-me-using gym and the empty pool, back to the poor-door us worker-ants scuttled into daylight from so the richfucks di’n’ have to smell us, soaked to the skin in one second flat, and jerked back out to the block entrance where a paddywagon was already waiting with its blue light flashing through the rain for all the world to see, in case I di’n’ already look like a big enough twot with my cop-controlled walking.

Whether I liked it or not, my body got into the paddywagon. The car di’n’ talk to me like an uber or anything ‘n’ I w’s too shit-scared to ping it with my tech even though the thought crossed my mind. They di’n’ seem to have firewalled me which I s’pose made sense ‘cause I was’n’ actually a criminal or anything, on’y being arrested for nothing. But anyway, the paddywagon w’s just all business.  It grew its door closed and drove off. Jesus! I knew they could do this but it w’s one thing to know and another to bloody find out!

Course, they didn’ ‘ave to do this. They could of just called me into their online space. It w’s all just to show me who w’s boss. Never mind if I was having a piss of handling hot food or what. Just drop everything and interrupt your day to make a shit-useless trip into the station for not doing anything wrong.

I acshly di’n’ know I lived so close to the local station. I wasn’ even far from the scene of the not -crime; jus’ down the bottom of the old One Tree Hill where Cornwall estate now was and a block over. With my guts doing backflips, I got remote-controlled through the front door. The paddywagon parked under cover at least so I di’n’ get any more soaked.

It was the first actual time I’d been arrested and I gotta say the experience had me shitting my pants. There was only a coupla big things I could get busted for but there w’s also a thousand and one bloody small things too. If I was’n’ for my stressing about them pulling up some arsehole audit records and saying Ah, Mister Richards-Mann, we know all about you, my eyes would’ve been popping out at how much of a shid’ole the cop-shop was.

It had old and I mean old yellowy plaster walls which w’s cracking and flaking all over the shitty green lino – faark, lino! – floor with acshool cracks and rips in the lino. I could even smell how it was kin’ of going rotten. It must’ve been eighty years old or something. There w’s a pissed-off half-asleep looking fat dude in a too-small cop uniform at the massive front desk behind a fuckoff plastic screen.

Sheesh, I know he looks ready but the good peeps of Auckland aren’t that fuckin’ starving yet are we? Well…

I mean, surely the way I got here was proof nobody was gonna come at them with a knife and fork or anything. You’d be frozen by remote the nano you even thought about it.

I could see behind the, uh, pretty receptionist, all the pigs sitting at these old-school office-type desks with crumby old petitions made of something that w’s prob’ly illegal now. It couldn’t of been much more like some B-movie set before the COVID plague way back near the turn o’ the senchirry if they’d had antique laptops and phones on their desks and bits of paper stuck to their petitions with pins or something.

But even the cops were a bit more modern than that. They had the desks and the petitions and the mildew and rotting lino-smelling building ‘n’ that, but otherwise they were just sitting gassing.

The reception blimp did nothing when I slopped in. There was some huckery looking plastic seats off to one side which I would of sat in just to say I’d touched anteek plastic ‘cept the cop-tech still had me in a strangle-hold. So I was just remote-controlled to stand and wait, but not for long.

A door beside the reception fort opened and even the crappy figure-not-hugging uniform didn’t do much to cool down constable hotness who came out t’ see me. By the freaky blonde bun and the not-spots tan, the constable was a fledgling corporate kid, prob’ly not long hatched from university or whadever pricey corporate brainwashing joint they sent ‘em to nowadays. I would of done ‘er, ‘specially if she wore some of the uniform during.

She was bloody rude as any richfuck. She just kind of half walked over to me, did a little tech-twitch of her expensive little face and u-turned. I found myself following her back through the door. I would of turned to look ‘round the pigsty just to suss it out, if the tech let me, but I w’s made to just keep eyes forward and quick march. Seeing as how the cute constable w’s leading the way it wasn’t all bad.

We ended up in a beaten-up room with the same crap décor as the glorious fuckin’ station reception, only it was smaller so it stunk more. Nothing but two chairs and a lump of a table. Acshly just like turn-o’-the senchiree movies which I watched a shit-ton of for my minimum wage CGI job remastering them for virtual spaces.

Still mute, Constable Cuteness waved me into a chair an’ then I decided pretty fast, the experience of touching scratched up cold anteek plastic wasn’ really worth it. I realised the cop tech had let me go as I sat down and it was just as well ‘cause I hadn’t been too far away from hurling, the way it had locked up my gut-muscles.

Is it meant to do that? Or is it just legacy crap they can’t afford to upgrade, like their station.

And then, boof! A fossil of a dude virtualed into the room at the end of the table. I jumped. Not because he’d appeared but because of who he was! It was bloody Jason Zhang himself! I was actually a bit freaked then. This was the Jason Zhang! He was best buds with his royal techship Tristian Laufala himself! Plus ‘e owned half the construction business in the known faarken world. All the high-rises. All the roads, all the fuckin’ cheap-arse seawalls that kept leaking corrosive poison bloody ocean into basements, if they weren’t bloody bursting and drowning poor families on the coasts all over the country and prob’ly the fuckin’ world.

Yeah, so unlikely he’d been going for a BJ or BDSM session at his age. The guy was known to be going fēng kuáng in the head, seeing as how he was nearly ninety or something.

I’m toast.

So I was just starting to sweat in the cold plastic seat when Cute-cop richfuckling said, ‘Mister Nathan Richards-Mann, thankyou for coming to the station so promptly.’

Like I had a choice.

‘This gentleman, Mister Jason Zhang…’

Who, by the way, didn’t have to drag his arse down here like me who am just as fuckin’ innocent until proven guilty.

‘…has accused you of vandalism.’

‘Not guilty.’ I said. ‘I di’n’ do anything.’

‘You bloody did s… He did! He splashed water into my car!’ Zhang squawks. He sounds like ‘is throat’s lined with wet tarmac.

‘All right then, this should be easy enough to sort out. Let’s take a look at the video.’ Coplette was trying not to sound bored. Poor thing, if this job wasn’t challenging enough for her, she’d have to go back to bumming ‘round mummy and daddy’s fifty-bedroom apartment destroying real food trying new recipes in her ready-made influencer space or something. HashTagSoFuckin’Sad.

So then, bam! We w’s suddenly out in the rain which kind of made my brekkie uppity about staying down after the beating it’d took from the cop-tech. There would’ve been nanos on photo-sensor duty aggregated all over the sides of buildings and prob’ly even on the pavement so it could film up the crack of your overs. I reckoned we were on the side of a building from the angle of the view, ‘cept it was just like any virtual space, you could look ‘round and it would pan the image like you were really there. No other sensory, thank fuck. I’d had enough wetness and roaring bloody rainstorm for one day.

We coul’n’ see much more than pissing rain at first but all right, there was his car pulling over to the pavement on the street a block away from my building. It stopped right in fron’ ‘f ‘s. You wouldn’t’ve been able to see much details of the car but nobody could say it wasn’ a car. The door peeled back just as some dickwad – that’s me – came slopping ‘round the corner – Jeeze I can walk fast! So ok, I hadda ‘dmit, pretty bad timing. The puddle, well, flash flood, w’s right b’side the car and I walked right into the water, right when richfuck w’s sticking his poncy leg out into the rain an’ the rest as they say, w’s hist’ry.

‘Yeah, see.’ I said. ‘It w’s just an accident. Seriously man, I didn’t mean it!’

He couldn’t really argue. But he w’s a richfuck and he w’s used to getting what he wanted and he was ninety cents in the dollar to throw in with the rest. ‘Check his tech!’ He ordered the coplette.

Christ! Is he dribbling?

‘Well, really, Mister Zhang, I think we can see what happened can’t we? It does look like an accident.’ I coul’n’ be sure but she was giving ‘im this look and it was like…

They know each other?

I gave her my best smile. I guess she thought I looked like a crim since my hair wasn’ long and in a bun like all her pretty liddle gender-neutrally-dressed richfuck buds’ prob’ly was. But still, best to stay positive, I’ve read that in shitloads of self-help stuff in the libr’ry. She di’n’ smile back.

‘Mister Zhang, I need to make you aware there is a fee associated with…’

He w’s already waving it off, course ‘e was. What did he care about fees? They all somehow dribble through the systems back to the richfucks anyway, he w’s just basically paying himself his own money back, like sucking the end of an enema tube.

‘Mister Richards-M…’

‘Call me Nat.’

‘Mister Richards-Mann, you’re not at this time required to submit to an examination of your tech. however if you do not, your refusal may be viewed with suspicion and used as evidence in any subsequent criminal proceedings.’

‘Yeah, yeah, I know. Nothin’ to fear, nothin’ to hide. I geddit. So what can I do? Guess I just gotta toe the line and let you perve in at all my biometrics to prove my innocence. Well, just doin’ your job I guess.’

She had the decency to look a bit sorry at least. ‘Mister Richards-Mann—’ 

Please call me—’

Mister Richards-Mann, your data will be treated with the utmost confidence and stored securely. Nobody but relevant police personnel and judiciary staff will have access to your, uh, raw data and when on-sold, we guarantee it will be in aggregate or anonymised form only.’

They actually just say it! Jeeze! It’s a bloody racket!

I tried to keep the anger off my face but not that hard. See, all this bullshit disclaimering w’s giving me time to make a few adjustments to my tech, just to make sure the hatches w’s battened an’ that. They’d see a bit of weirdness but it wouldn’t stop ‘em getting at my biometrics and in the end, it was just the principle that got on my tits. They were bloody welcome to it, really. So I looked a bit pissed and said, ‘Yeah, ok, I consent, or whatever I gotta say.’

What’s the bet there w’s even some official words you had to say and if you did’n’ say ‘em you could use for a legal technicality in your defence or something. I even think there was ‘cause I partly remembered learning something like it in the lib’ry. But Peaches-cop wasn’ standing on ceremony. She did a tech-tic and I felt the cop systems root-user into my brain.

She could see the data getting mined and so could I and we both knew there w’s nothing. My heart had been doing what a heart at walking pace should do. Frontal lobe and cerebellum ‘n that were jus’ saying was go right, go left, go straight ahead an’ all that shit. Not that they could acshly read your mind but near as dammit nowadays, and getting closer all the time. Course, the amygdala fired the signal and there w’s a bit of left hemisphere wakeup, catecholamines, adrenaline ‘n that. But that was only after Mister J. richfuck shouted at me. Well, who wouldn’ get a fright if some arsehole in a dark vehicle opened the door and shouted at them outta the blue, well, or the pissing grey anyway. Basically, I was just chilling on my walk and I knew it and she knew it. They had nothin’ on me. Nothin’! Which w’s why they hadda make somethin’ up.

Constable Peaches pursed her lips which ‘til then looked deliciously like a moist sideways richfuck. She fired a rabbit-in-the-headlights look at Mister JRF’s holo-ghost. He looked like he w’s gonna hit someone. She says in this pissy weepy voice, ‘It does look as if he’s telling the truth U… Mister Zhang.’

That w’s too much! ‘Course I’m bloody telling the truth! I was going for a walk, getting some exercise in! There’s no fu… law against it!’

It acshly felt cool when neither of ‘em looked at me funny for saying exercise. She would’ve had to of done proper exercise to be a coplette and he was a fossil, so back in his day it’s prob’ly all they could do to keep in shape. Not that our little three second brotherhood, well, or whatever-hood, did me any good, but. She just ignored me like I never said anything and the pale-under-wrinkly-tan of JRF’s face told me he was about go critical.

PC Peaches must’ve seen it too and who knows, maybe she was ‘is niece or ‘is granddaughter or some shit like that. I had all my illegal tech cloaked with, uh, even illegaler tech so I coul’n’ packet-sniff to see if they w’s messaging. Di’n’ look like it though, their faces were both, y’know, here, and not spaced in that tech kind of way. But whether her nose was up his hairy brown crack or not, I had still just become a latent prisoner.

PC Peaches. said, ‘As I said, Mister Richards-Mann does seem to be telling the truth but…’

‘Too right!’

‘Excuse me Mister Richards—’

‘Call me N—‘

Excuse me Mister Richards-Mann! If I could continue.

I cracked a decent grin and saluted but she didn’t seem imused.

All the time I was thinking, she was doing her continuing and I tuned back in when it got worrying.

‘When I connected you to our system, Mister Richards-Mann, the system had to adapt to your tech—’

‘Well course it did, I’ve got— ‘

‘If you’ll let me finish Mister Richards-Mann.’

JRF looked like ‘e’d spotted the quarry which didn’t make me feel too flash so I shut my cake-hole and waited though I had a bad feeling about where she was going. I’d heard of it before, when they can’t nail you for anything, they’d nail you for nothing. And sure-a-bloody-nough!

‘Now while your tech did eventually allow a connection…’

Fuck eventually, it took all of a bloody nano!

‘…the requirement to adapt to your non-standard configuration suggests tampering. We can’t therefore guarantee the validity of your biometrics since your non-standard tech configuration could have corrupted data, lost data or even deliberately interfered with data before delivery to us.’

A big white-toothed grin opened up on JRF’s ancient-arse mug, then. About the same time, I felt my guts sinking out my arsehole and through the illegal plastic right in the beating heart of the nation’s law enforcement service. Everyone, everyone dicked around with their tech. Customised the visual overlays, tuned the senses up and down, muted ad’s from freeware overlays. It was made so you could easily do it. There w’s even software the corporates sold to help you do it easier. But of course, there was always that pissy little disclaimer that it might somehow fuck you up and well, now, I w’s finding out the somehow of the up-fucking.

I could even see a spasm of sympathetic human-ness struggle like a mutant tape-worm under Peaches’ expensive smooth cuteness before she got it under control and carried on somehow-ing my life.

‘So, Mister Richards-Mann, Auckland Island province has no choice but to find you guilty…’

‘I want to appeal!’

Could I appeal? W’s thadda thing? I’m sure I read it in the lib’ry but maybe it w’s before tech.

‘…of illegal tampering with public property and intent to conceal criminal intentions from the police. You are invited to spend five years in Spume Inc. therapeutic stasis from which you are guaranteed to resume normal life in at least comparable physical condition to your condition on the day you initially engage with the service, less reasonable aging. Since the system reports no previous convictions or cautions, you may be invited to end your psychological therapy after two years depending on therapeutic outcomes.’

Jesus you’d just gotta love their wording. Invited, therapeutic, comparable. Jesus fuck! Did they think I was alliteration or something! Anything’s bloody comparable to anything! And as for the bloody invitation, I could already feel it inviting my arms and legs to let the police tech take control of them and march me out to a paddywagon. Yeah, some fuckin’ invitation.

Constable Peaches di’n’ even bother to follow me out. She just stayed in the bullshit ‘court room’ and I di’n’ see if JRF popped back off or what.

They definitely had me firewalled now. My skin’d gone numb and most’ve my senses were jammed as the paddywagon drove me home. I guessed they let you still see ‘cause the police tech needed to know where your body was going somehow. Nothing they could do to stop me thinking though ‘cept I’d almost rather not of been able to, right then.

Jeeze! Therapeutic outcomes. Fuck! Those Spume arseholes brainwashed you! I was gonna be fuckin’ slowly lobotomised for doing nothing! This system was fuckin’ shit! It was fuckin’ rigged! Nobody could see me in the paddywagon but I di’n’ give a shit about the tears falling which I coul’n’ even lift a hand to wipe off. They w’s righteous fuckin’ tears. I was on fire inside even though I cou’n’ move. More than fire. I was a fuckin’ volcano-ic eruption inside. Not that it did any good.

The paddywagon cruised between all the high-rises in the rain, which was so heavy now it was like being under the water. Through the windscreen, I saw red drone lights come in and out of the grey and a few taillights ahead. That w’s the final shithouse view I was gonna get on what might ’s-well of been the last day of my life.

Course, I’d get my one call once I was safely banged up but I wasn’ in the mood. I mean, course I’d do it, it’d be to Tina, course it would. I coul’n’ face Mum and Dad like this, they’d prob’ly find out sooner or later anyway and maybe come and visit me in the joint but by then I’d’ve been so fucked with I woul’n’ even know who they were.

I even was’n’ sure what I’d say to Tina.

Hey Teen, See ya in a coupla years when I’m a vegetative sack of braindead good citizen.

Jeeze, she wa’n’ gonna take this too well. I hoped she wouldn’t do anything stupid and get herself chucked in the joint with me. She was basically an all-right girlfriend but I hadda ‘dmit, she could get a bit freaky sometimes with all the praying stuff I taught her. I’d tried to teach her the good stuff too, the mindfulness ‘n’ lucid dreaming ‘n’ all that which I taught myself from the lib’ry. But she kinda latched on to all the weird kids’-story stuff about gods and shit and got arsey with me when I tried to talk her out of it.

I mean, don’ ge’me wrong, I was into revolution all right. I fully wanted to get people together, change the system, make it fairer, make the richfukcs listen, make ‘em fuckin’ notice us. I done a few hacks in my time too. I got around the lib’ry paywall after they put it in, so thousands of poor people like me could at least have a pissing Jesus of a chance to move up in life.

And thanks a lot to me, thousands of kids would at least get a bit better food so their brains wouldn’t grow up deficient on shithouse government-issue pure processed mush; which you could technically live on if you did’n’ mind shitting through the eye of a needle all your life; which wouldn’t be long after the bowel cancer came for ya. That was my genius K-Bell points hack I said about before. It was all through their drones, virused into their delivery system. I s’pose they’d sniff it out one day but every month they didn’t was another month some babies w’s getting fed actshool solids.

Yeah, see? University-shmooniversity, everything you could ever need to know w’s right there in the now theereticly-public lib’ry. As long as you knew how to pirate a translation overlay to get all the ol’ books into the standard hanzees from the old alphabet which I also helped people do, you could learn anything a richfuck fledgling like PC Peaches prob’ly got taught at posh corporate university. Course, even then, fuckall peeps could read nowadays anyway, not ‘cause they di’n’ get taught it in basic school but ‘cause they di’n’ keep it up.

So yeah, I done some illegal shit. But I done it all seriously cloaked, not for the glory like some of these wannabe do-gooders who accidentally on purpose would let their handles get found out so they could suck up a bit of ooohs an’ ahs from the crowds before changing their private keys again. I acshly was playing the long game for the greater fuckin’ good. Tina, I di’n’ think she quite goddit. She w’s just kinda, angry. I’d always try to keep ‘er calm, try t’, y’know, show her the best way and keep trying to nudge along the idea of maybe the gods aren’t gonna save us… But I worried about that girl. An’ all the weed she chugged di’n’ help either.

So it w’s pleasant fuckin’ thoughts like that which were in my mind as the paddywagon pulled up at my block entrance. The police tech forced me out of the car through the rain, into the poor-door, down the stinky hall, even right past Tina’s door which I coul’n’ even look sideways at ‘cause my neck was locked in forward position.

Please don’ come out Teens! Not now!

I came to a shin-splinting halt at my door and jerked ‘round.

Fuck man! I’ve got legs not bloody wheels!

The door peeled back and I was force-marched inside where the cop systems had already repurposed public nanos, which was building my pris…uh, fuck, sorry, therapeutic stasis chamber over my bed.

Another wave of fuck me this can’t be happening iced up my back and this time I wouln’ of wanted anyone to see me crying like a child and dribbling through my locked-shut mouth. I would prob’ly of shit myself too given how crook my guts felt but the cop systems had a strangle-hold on everything. I watched as the chamber grew, the nanos eating into my bed, spitting it back out as the standard issue blues and whites of Spume Inc. It w’s harmless-looking enough really. It shoul’n’ve shit me up the way it did considering it w’s basically just a bed, some tubes and a bio-containment bubble which in the end, was achshly for my own health and safety while I was in stasis.

Man if I could hijack those nanos, they’d be worth a farken fortune!

All the best richfuck geniuses worked on those firewalls. Not that I woul’n’ of given it a run for its money if I got the chance. Just one more thing I’d never get to do.

While I stood there dribbling and weeping like a haizi, my apartment was getting a refurb. All the grime on the walls and cupboards was getting cleared and the damp bits down in the corners where the social-housing quality JRF construction was rotting, magicked clean and dry as the nanites got to ‘em. I’d almost’ve been happy for the free maintenance jobby if I didn’t know it wasn’t just all for shit-show.

Couldn’t have pris– Aw, sorry, Spume therapy clients, being seen to hibernate in squalor. There was a scam-deal…. scamdal…  There was a big shitstorm about it a coupla decades ago when I was still liddle and sleeping in the bed between my mum and dad in their government issue ground-floor shitbox. Yeah, my gaff’d be kept clean and tidy while I was getting my state-funded brain-damage all right.

Well, the memories w’s running like the tears which was a shit way to spend my last sane moments in life, but what the fuck else could I do with my body hijacked by the law enforcement service? The deranging tomb was all set up and my apartment looked like an old-school hospital room b’fore long and then this voice – PC Peaches’ voice! – said, ‘Mister Richards-Mann, your therapy space is ready, you’re entitled to a call before you engage with the service. Normally there is a time limit of ten minutes but…. I can be, uh, a bit flexible.’

Whoa! Generous! I get to act like a wimpy dick in fronna my girlfriend for even longer. Prob’ly while Peaches watches and pisses ‘erself laughing at the loser wet-foot ground-floor crim, too.

She hadn’t virtualed into my home, just her voice sounded in my ears. And it sounded kind of regretful, even. I reckoned now the high and mighty richfuck had left her alone she was prob’ly regretting the whole thing since she knew she was outta line. Poor li’l’ Peaches eh? It’d haunt her for maybe a few days! ‘Til she decided to pay a shit-ton of cash for a few of her own Spume sessions – the nice touchy-feely customer-focused ones – to clear her sad little richfuck conscience of destroying a nasty smelly poor guy for a crime she thought he might of committed. Yeah, sheesh, My heart would of gone out to ‘er if my fuckin’ fist was’n’ first in line.

My limbs stayed locked which showed they knew their stuff, really. I reckon there was a good chance I acshly would of offed myself in that few minutes when I saw the chamber all set up and there was just a useless chat with my girlfriend between me and the end. I could breathe normal again and my stomach unclenched. My tech was mostly firewalled ‘cept comms which was back online.

Do I get to go for a last shit?

It di’n’ really matter ‘cause the tubes and stuff would take care of all that once I was under but it still kinda sucked ‘cause it meant I’d have to clench my way through my last ever sane conversation with another human bean. I thought of begging Peaches to let me go, I could even see my toilet door right b’side me out the corner ‘f my eye. Man! So close! It made me need t’ go more.

But I reckoned Peaches would think I was taking the piss and even if she di’n’, she prob’ly wouln’ let me anyway so there wasn’ anything left but to dimeen myself in fronna Tina and say goodbye to her and the cruel world.

So with tears drying on my face and poo fighting for escape from my bum, I called up my girlfriend one last time. I holo-ghosted int’ her place and she said, ‘Oh, hi babe.’ She was wearing knickers and a t-shirt which would of got me horny at any other time. I had’n’ planned what t’ say, who the fuck does? I just stood there. ‘What’s wrong?’ She came over and tried to take my hands outta reflex.


I coul’n’ think of what to say.

‘Nat, where are you?’ She w’s starting to freak.

‘I’m at my place Teens. But…’

‘Shall I come over?’ She wiggles her hips which again should of given me wood but di’n’.

‘Teens, you can’t. I’ve been…’

The tears came and now she really started to freak. She turned around and got some hemps on. ‘I’m coning over!’ She said.

I coul’n’ think of what to say so I just ghosted after her and then had the freaky experience of watching her hammering on my door which I was acshly behind, when it wouldn’t peel back for her. ‘Nathan what’s happened?’ She started tearing up herself and that got me t’ man up and talk.

‘Teens, I got irrested. I got fuckin sentenced! I can’t leave my place now. You’ll get visitation, prob’ly, I dunno how it works but prob’ly you can visit sometime but I’m about t’ be put under so you’re my last call an’…’ Then I ran outta words again.

‘Jesus! Nat! What did you do?’

Well that w’s a dumb question coming from her. She knew everything I done. But I knew what she meant.

‘Teens, I achshly di’n’ do anything. Y’know, not that they’ve… Uh, acshly nothing. I acshly got busted for just fuckin’ annoying this richfuck when I w’s out on my walk, seriously, I accidentally splashed the guy and he got me farken arrested! They checked the video and found me not guilty and busted me for non-standard farken tech instead!’

‘Nat! That’s impossible! Can’t you, I dunno, can’t you use all your law stuff to get it re-checked or something? Everyone has non-standard farken tech! Even the richfucks!’

‘I tried Teens. They jus’ di’n’ even listen.’

Jeeze. Did I try hard enough? Maybe the constable di’n’ hear me or something? Maybe there is some kind of appeal proseedja or something.

I w’s gonna try and be cool. I w’s all ready to tell her It would be a piece of piss, that I’d be out in a coupla years and she could visit me anyway and it would be all good so I said, ‘Teens, I’m freaking out. I can’t believe what’s happened. I just can’t believe it. I’ve just come back from the cop station. They’ve got my farken body jammed so I can’t move my arms and legs. Teens, they’re gonna fuckin’ lobotomise me! I’m done, Teens, I might’s w’ll fuckin’ die.’ Last bit came out like a little haizi wailing about a broken toy and then the sobs took over my body and the tears rolled like my brain fluid was leaking.

I hope you fuckin’ watching this Peaches you spoilt little cunt! Are you happy you’ve done your fuckin’ civical fuckin’ judy now? Does seeing me like this make you feel good? Can you see my fuckin’ girlfriend now, Peaches? See what you’ve done to her too? Look at her! She struggles at the best of fuckin’ times, now look!

Tina had flopped down outside my door crying. Nobody’d be getting in there in a hurry. I was sealed off behind nano-reinforced active fuckin’ alloy like one of those insects there used to be which had the honey-combs. Ants or something. Put their grubs inside the wax thing ‘til it was ready to hatch out. Only I’d hatch out a dribbling pissing invalid instead of something which could fly and make honey.

‘Teens.’ I said, tryna pull myself together. ‘Teens. You gotta keep the movement going ‘til I get out, ok? You gotta keep recruiting. You keep dishing out the pir… you know what. Teens, ya hear me? You gotta access the public records, use what they’ve done t’ me t’day? Geddit, Teens?’

She looked up, all blotchy and red, hair stuck to her face. I wanned t’ reach down an’ pull ‘er up, fix up her hair ‘cept I coul’n’ ‘cause I was’n’ really there. Tech w’s a mindfuck! I swear It did more bloody harm than it ever did good in the world! There w’s this new hardness setting over her face right as I watched, like she w’s turning into a vampire from one of those old movies. And her face began to change…wooooh!

It chilled me into a kind of calmness and when she spoke it w’s in a kind of voice I’d never heard her use and sure as shit di’n’ like the sound of. ‘Yeah, I’ll do it babes. All of it. Don’t worry. And I’ll find a way of getting you out too, before they wreck your head. I’ll get money, I’ll get a lawyer or something. I’ll find a way, you just have t’ hang in ok? I’ll visit you inside when I can, all right?’

‘Yeah, all good Teens. Brave girl. It’s time now, but. I gotta go. The system’s got me on the bed, Teens. The needles are coming. Gotta say bye for now, ok?’

‘Ok, Nat. Yep, bye for now. But we’re gonna get your out ok? Just hang tough babes! Ok?’

‘Yeah, course Teens. I’ll be—’

And that’s as far as I got. The first of the needles pricked me as I tried t’ say goodbye to m’ damn girlfriend. My own voice went kind of weird and slow in my ears and that was that. Fair enough, in a way, I mean, the ionic-ness of my predictment w’s that in a very big fuckoff no two ways about it kinda way, they we’right. It just wasn’t fair they di’n’ have t’ bother proving it.

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