3 - LOADING KERNEL
Santa Cruz District, New Angeles, Esperanza
Wednesday, September 3, 682.
07:20 hrs local time
Rick finished waking up. After washing his face he grabbed his medication bottle and swallowed a pill; next, a bottle of the ubiquitous BeeLife Stress-B-Gone™ pills — more commonly known as "happy pills", and swallowed the first feel-good pill of the day. The commercials said:
Through the Miracle of Nanotechnology,
(That overused phrase either meant "our tech is so fucking advanced that it'd take either a full 600-page book or a Level-4 concept download for you to barely understand how it works", or, more commonly, "we're totally making this shit up, but all the rich snobs in the citadels take it so why wouldn't you?". Fortunately, the happy pills were based on centuries-old Open Source biochem, so this was one of the few legit cases of nanotech consumables.)
Through the Miracle of Nanotechnology, Stress-B-Gone minimizes your stress levels by delivering beta blockers and carefully-tuned neurotransmitters to your brain and bloodstream, minimizing stress responses until your body and mind are finally in harmony.
(That last phrase - usually spoken in super-fast speech - also had a hidden meaning: "Our product has potential side effects and we're not responsible for you becoming a manchild, getting psychologically addicted to this shit or forgetting how to control your own impulses, so we're disclosing this just to prevent you from suing the fuck out of our company." But everybody used it anyway, and for a good reason: It was the de-facto standard to overcome anxiety and prevent rage attacks. The year Happy Pill dispensers were introduced to impoverished zones, crime rate was reduced by a whopping 60% - except for the vandalism of Happy Pill dispensers and stolen pharma trafficking, which increased 1200%.)
Rick took a seat on the living room table and used the remote control module in his neural implants to command the TV on. In reality he didn’t want to watch TV, he just wanted to distract himself from the grief that Kimiko's death caused him.
The TV opened with a commercial in black, magentas and sensual voices. There was an interesting sex scene where the sensitive parts were replaced by carefully-censored animations.
"Yes, more like that... aaaahhhh..."
The diffuse scene kept morphing into different sex scenes: From fellatio to orgies, to bondage, and so on. The sensual female voice spoke. "Come to Paradise, the entertainment sector where your wildest fantasies can become as real as you want. The only limit is -
"Your wallet!" Pearson gestured a swipe to the left, telling the TV to switch to the next commercial. This was a new one. It started with a woman talking in a moderately sensual tone, like the one of an experienced hooker educating the new girl:
"Listen to me, girl..."
"Yup," Pearson said to himself, "pro hooker alright."
There was a voluptuous blond woman skinny-dipping in a luxurious pool. The woman reached the corner of the pool and walked up the marble stairs, where an android butler (obviously blue-skinned as mandated by law) covered her with her towel.
The female narrator continued talking. "Have you always dreamed of marrying a rich guy and living in a luxurious house in the citadels?"
The camera moved away from the pool, to show a rich mansion. Phoenixes of all colors flew between the top of the palm trees — something that would make ornithologists cringe, as phoenixes were vicious and territorial creatures, but who gave a shit? This was a dating ad aimed at unfortunate souls with nowhere to drop dead. The camera kept zooming away from the mansion until a crystal dome was shown above the clouds.
"It's not a dream anymore. With over ten thousand nobles eager to add more women to their harems," the voice said as the pictures of several handsome men of all races and skin colors formed a huge collage, "you have the perfect chance. You don't even have to be beautiful, tall, or even white. Our best biomodders can sculpt your figure into the body of your dreams. Call Adonis dating services, and you'll become the Odalisque you've always wanted."
The scene switched to a group of beautiful women wearing silk dresses and pompous jewelry, all approaching a single man wearing a tuxedo. The camera did a close up on an Afrodescendant woman with brown skin and elf ears (a century ago the commercial used a Chinese woman, but the recent immigration waves changed the demographics of the company's target audience). The woman, who was the same voice narrating the commercial, spoke to the camera and said: "Call now, girl, your green card is waiting for you."
When the girl blinked, the video shrunk to a quarter of the screen and the contact details appeared:
A male voice spoke in fast speech:
"Services available only for women from 15 to 25. Harem applications are subjected to the tastes of our associates; marriage proposals not guaranteed."
Rick wondered why a harem ad would appear in the morning news; he only understood when he swiped the commercial away.
"And now we return to Murder in the Orion Express."
"Oh, right. Last night's movie." Rick swiped up and switched the TV to Channel 6 Hong Kong. He always preferred international news, but whenever he dreamed of Kimiko there was a country he would always pick: Hong Kong, the country where they met. It made him feel even for a second that all his delusions were real. The doc would kill him if she found out, but he just couldn't help it. He was in desperate need for a sense of normalcy in his life, and Hong Kong news gave that to him.
The catchy news tune began playing, along with the 3D animation of the planet surrounded by its two moons. The two moons approached until they formed a partial eclipse, the smaller red moon covering half of the white one. The moment the red moon was inside the white moon, a twinkle finished the animation.
ASTRO-NEWS — where you can see any news in the world, and beyond.
The weather ticker below displayed the expected conditions for the week: Sunny today, cloudy tomorrow with probability of rain.
This is Astro News. I’m Daniela Chan with a five-minute summary of the current events.
Space. (The section name was spoken by a deep male voice)
It is the fourth consecutive year with increased influx of war refugees from Earth. Even when the light-speed transmissions from our motherworld indicate that the food and political crises have ended, there's still a six-year buffer of war refugee ships on their way.
(As the pill began reaching Rick's system, the pain he was feeling in his chest slowly started fading away. And he was getting another false memory about Kimiko; this was a much more pleasurable one. He closed his eyes and sighed, thanking his luck.)
While the UN Immigration council is debating on how to handle the immigration crisis, the Council of Nova Europa has asked the Space Authority to keep the immigrants frozen as a way of spacing out the influx over the next decade. Meanwhile, the Esperanzan president has signed a law commanding all Terran immigrants to be subject to reeducation and mandatory birth control. President Wilson also warned the Asian continent about the consequences of not imposing immigration regulations, citing the European Civil Wars on Earth as a cautionary tale.
(The spontaneous memory began taking shape: Rick was kissing his wife; he slowly undid the ties that held Kimiko's silk dress together. One by one each tie was undone, as she kept kissing him slowly, tasting and smelling his natural scent. Finally, her dress was vulnerable to the forces of gravity, softly sliding down her porcelain skin like a leaf down a river.)
As usual, the government of New China has invited all Terran Chinese immigrants to populate their vast country, despite protests from ground people in Beijing, who have demanded the bureaucracy to finish the citadel planned in the Fangshan district.
Meanwhile, the Space Authority is already preparing the lunar docks to receive more Terran arks filled with cryo-frozen families. And that’s all the news concerning Earth. Returning to our own planet’s news:
(Rick slid Kimiko’s lace panties down her legs, letting them fall on the floor before sliding his hands up again until they reached her hips, and kept sliding up, stopping at her breasts.)
Yesterday, Pope Francis XII has officially opened the Fifth Midorian Ecumenical Council, which will take place in Vatican City, Nuevo Mexico. The council will address two important issues currently being discussed within the Church: Whether androids have souls and can be saved...
(He slowly wrapped his strong arms around her, pushing her to the couch. She began removing his shirt as they kissed each other passionately.)
Fundación Clonatón, a Mexican-European effort founded ten years ago by Eden Health Services, is asking for their annual donation campaign. At least a hundred terminally-ill children will have their brains grafted into genetically engineered bodies...
(Kimiko began kissing his neck, his naked chest, his abs, tasting his musculature with her fingertips, which slid down again to reach his pants, and slowly began to undo his belt.)
...400th anniversary of the Chinese Biocopsime attack. The bioterrorist attack used an engineered virus which introduced several diseases and shortened its victims' lifespans. An investigation had revealed...
(The two lovers were now lying on the couch, skin to skin, as Kimiko's blue eyes stared at the holographic night sky installed on the ceiling.)
...recordings, which are constantly being censored by the Chinese government...
(Kimiko had her arms wrapped around Rick’s neck, while her legs were wrapped around his body. The two lovers moved in sync, while Rick’s senses were focused on the barely audible panting that came out of her mouth.)
...43rd Shogun, Yamamoto Mitsurugi, has approved a law which allows mind cloning for mortally ill people, just as long as the government issues them a permit. Yamamoto's political enemies are accusing him...
(Kimiko and Rick were now on the bed. He kissed her breasts while she kept caressing his hair. The touch of his fingers on the top of her breasts made her shiver, while she stretched her hands and slid them down his back.)
... Eden Health services have seized the opportunity to ask the Shogun for a license...
(Pearson was resting on the bed. Kimiko was sitting on top of him, clasping her hands against his. She was incredibly light, almost like a doll. She closed her eyes, and began moving her hips back and forth.)
With the recent changes in Ground District Law, Hong Kong delegates no longer have to wait for a five-year period before joining the presidential race. Delegate Enrique Moreira, the first to postulate himself, has promised to raise taxes on android labor if he's elected, while his opponent Jaime Velázquez vowed to raise the basic income and increase the much needed police forces budget. Velázquez also spoke against Moreira's airport proposal, calling it “rubbing salt on the wound of extreme poverty”...
(Kimiko was resting face-up on top of Rick’s body, as he kept caressing her breasts from below. He would kiss her neck and she would reach for his arms. As he kept kissing her she kept rocking her body, rubbing herself while Rick penetrated her from below. Rick felt the sensation of being inside Kimiko, how could it feel so real if it was just an illusion? He remembered looking at the window... there was a bamboo window screen... he remembered the sun setting in the sea. They were at the beach... it was their anniversary... and he was sure he'd picked that hotel in Atlantis personally.)
Rumors keep spreading about the possible decision of Mayor Graciela Vita to listen to her fans and run for president. After another failed negotiation to relocate the immigrants in the old city ruins, Mayor Vita commented: "Everyone wants a new citadel, but private interests keep blocking our efforts, and we all know who they are."
(Kimiko was now asleep, and Rick kept caressing her shoulder, feeling blessed for having married a woman of her tenderness. She slowly opened her eyes, smiled faintly, and caressed his neck with the back of her fingernails.
"I never thought I'd be so happy", she said tenderly.
"Me neither... me neither."
Rick turned to his right and looked at her. They kept staring at each other, smiling, for several minutes.)
...yet another defeat for the decaying Netball stars, the Neon Ravens, at the hand of the Steel Badgers. Without the support of the now disgraced Wolvencroft brothers, it has become impossible for the Ravens to catch up with the other teams...
(Rick didn’t know if it was the Happy Pill, but like other times, the peace he had felt when "creating" — he hated that word — another memory of Kimiko just made it impossible for him to accept that she was just a figment of his own imagination. But as the new memories faded away, reality began to take their place. He walked to the fridge to pick up a mini-can of drinkable yogurt, sweet enough to wake him up and begin his morning exercises.)
...now against the Novo European star Stephanie Vlahovic. As it’s usual with Tennis competitions, players use the best avatars they can afford, and Kimberly Meyer once again proved the superiority of the avatars provided by her father’s company, Prometheus Industries...
"Shit!" Rick dropped the yogurt and cursed himself as he grabbed a nearby rag to clean up the mess.
(Something really upset Rick about Prometheus. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but the way the whole company grew in only 10 years was ridiculous. It was a stereotypical Terran megacorp, whose business tactics were worthy of a comic book villain: Embrace, Extend, Exterminate. Embrace the tech, extend its capabilities, and exterminate the competition with tight Intellectual Property protections and invasive contracts. If anything went wrong, they paid PR companies to troll their critics.)
...discussing the replacement of Steve Meyer as CEO. To make matters worse, leaked reports speak of Steve Meyer having been diagnosed with Virtuophobia. If confirmed, this rumor could prove fatal for the cybernetics giant.
(But why was Prometheus the only company that made Rick as mad whenever he heard its name? There were tons of corrupt companies out there. Perhaps his neural disease was also messing around with his judgment? He dismissed the thought, it was too scary to think about.)
... Diana González de la Vega. The veiled lady, who owns 51% of Prometheus stock, said that although she also heard of these rumors she has no plans to vote in favor of firing Meyer.
(Yet another reason to hate Prometheus: Diana la Loca. It's been forty years and "Doña Diana's torture tape" was still the #1 online search on the dark internet. Everybody knew that behind her veil she still had her burn scars, untreated. Pearson didn't know whether to pity the poor kid that she was, or to hate what she had become; probably both.)
The ninja burglars strike again!
What started as a prank has now become a viral phenomenon that is taking over the world by storm; it's the fourth time this month that people with unsecured windows have been robbed by the so-called "ninja burglars"; once again, the police has failed to get a description of the suspects. Law enforcement officers all over the world are demanding lawmakers to put a stop to the sales of balaclavas and regulate the sale of carbon black makeup.
Yet another sabotage incident at Hermes factories; SOLARIS denies any participation.
Hermes Manufacturing has suffered the third major-scale sabotage this year, this time in their Li sector facilities. Despite the SOLARIS logo being air-sprayed in one of the company's avatar factories, Kwanza Jakande – current leader of SOLARIS – has categorically denied the group's participation. Jakande also filed an international lawsuit for trademark infringement against whoever results responsible, for attributing the attack to SOLARIS.
Blade runners in our midst?
(An image of a human surgeon with a close-up of the scalpel was shown in the news topic).
A stash of restricted medical equipment has been found in a warehouse near MexicanTown. The exact nature of the restricted goods is classified. The Cyberpol is scanning the area in search of back-alley doctors and clues for the medical smugglers.
"Enough." Rick commanded the TV off. He had enough about crime in the job, the last thing he needed was to watch the news about that shit on TV. He began doing some crunches, and felt like Sisyphus carrying a rock to the top of a mountain just to let it roll down to the bottom.
He rested his head on the mat. “Jesus Christ. This is impossible... twenty two...”
He grunted again. “Just one more... just one more... TWENTY THREE!”
He grunted... “AH FUCK IT.” He stayed down and rested for a minute.
But no, Rick, he thought to himself, you had to take all that soda and cookies whenever you felt like it, right?
He stood up, scratched his fat belly, and walked to the bathroom. To think that in his dreams he didn't have one drop of fat in his body...
He tried to flex his biceps to see if he had any improvements. He couldn’t stand his reflection in the mirror. He was a loser, and the entire force knew it.
How did his life turn to shit? Year by year he began getting filled on fatty foods, cheap soda and began to satiate his loneliness away. Before he knew it his health went south and he lost his mojo. To make things worse, the damn viagra only gave him awful headaches. Just not worth it. VR porn felt just as good and he could pretend he was an movie protagonist with the perfect body.
Perhaps he could just ask for a credit, have a total body revamp and get rid of that "MacGrubber" nickname once and for all. Yeah, right. With his salary? Why did he have to apply for a police job, anyway?
He tilted the mirror a bit up, not because he was going to shave, but just so he wouldn’t have to see his fat belly. His sunglasses were lying around. He put them on and began acting like a TV cop.
“I just did what I had to do... now, if you excuse me... duty calls. No, that’s not like it.” He combed himself and tried again. “Duty calls.” For some reason he never managed to do it right with his right hand. He tried with the left, and it went perfectly. “Now, if you excuse me...” he flicked the sunglasses and the temples sprang out. “Duty calls.”
The mirror tilted again, showing him his belly. “Ah fuck.” He put down his glasses and got in the shower. The fresh water lightened up his mood. With that new happy memory of Kimiko still in his head, he felt fortunate. Maybe this day wouldn't be bad after all.
Back in his room he opened the window blinds, revealing a disorganized array of apartment buildings in the nearby blocks – most of them no taller than 6 stories high. Up to a certain point, the buildings got taller and more streamlined. A little farther was the corporate zone, full of business buildings, park buildings, malls and bars that connected to each other through elevated walkways; on top of them, Art Nouveau facades and hanging gardens surrounded the middle class apartment floors. And beyond the corporate zone, the skyscrapers were dwarfed by the construction of the city's first citadel, to be finished in the next decade.
He wondered what kind of society would be born inside that citadel... a socialist utopia, or a rats' nest?
In any case, that shouldn't worry him; like hell he'd be able to afford a house or an apartment in one.
It was getting late. Rick put on his uniform and hurried to the elevator, knowing that while breakfast would always wait for him, criminals never did.