[Issue #4, Winter 1999-2000]
An excerpt from a micro-novel to be published by CBR
Press in January, 2001.
By Rod Clark
[It's a new millennium. Inflation and the company store "Greenet"
rule most of planet Earth. The boy Jem is undergoing an initiation rite
to join the Savers, virtually the only people on the planet that have not
fallen into the debt-ridden existence called "redshift." To weather
his rite of passage, Jem must walk several blocks into a redshift neighborhood
of LA with a hundred dollar bill, and return with both milk and change.
Some things aren't as easy as they look... -- Rod Clark ]
"Thrift forbid that desire should wash over me, Thrift forbid that
desire should wash over me," Jem mumbled as he strode forward with
determination, keeping his eyes pinned to the safe Saver pave. Towering
interactive billboards beckoned him toward sin in the Redshift distance.
"Buy!," they whispered. "Purchase... Dream..."
The heat and the dust were terrible at this hour, and by the time he had
reached the rim of Redshift, he was already beginning to sweat under his
black hood. Defiantly he stepped across the red line painted on the pavement
and stood inches within the forbidden land, only a half dozen blocks from
where Wong Abdoul's surely blazed under its cool neon halos, waiting especially
for him. I'm going to do this, he told himself. Face the money now. Face
it today. Glancing down at the bill in his hand through grey-tinted goggles,
he saw with dismay that digital monetary decay was already in rapid progress.
The inflationary readout on what had been a hundred dollar bill only a few
minutes ago was now down to 96 bucks and dropping. Already, the picture
on the bill was changing. Oh so gradually, Clinton's chubby naiveté
was shriveling into the pious profile of Gary Bauer whose beaming image
adorned the 75 dollar bill. Smiling, sincere, so very, very Christian Gary
who had ridden smugly into the White House in the year 2016 on the slogan
"DEBT IS PUNISHMENT FOR OUR SINS," inching past born-again Dixiecrat
Trent Lott on the strength of electoral college votes gathered from the
newly acquired fundamentalist Hispanic states to the south. Sunny spots,
those Hispanic states, thought Jem. Very pretty girls. Yes. Good food there
too. Come to think of it a few tacos would taste good right now. Mmmm --
TACOS?? What the hell was a taco?
The image leapt into his mind with dazzling speed and power -- a yellow
golden shell of corn the size of a bus filled his mind's eye, while its
fragrant filling beckoned him, a bonanza of beans, onions, tomato, ground
beef. Mmmm -- looked good! He sure wanted one of those.... Unconsciously,
standing there on the street, he licked his lips and rubbed his tummy and
-- Wait a minute, he thought. GROUND BEEF?? Savers never ate meat! Where
had that idea come from?? With a dawning sense of horror, he whirled about
to spot the nose of a Taco Tremendo blimp sticking out from behind a decaying
warehouse beyon the ghetto rim, its SALESKAN beamers dilating toward him
like the suckers on an octopus he had once seen in the Encyclopedia Electronica.
YIKES! Cursing a green streak to ward off additional spending impulses,
Jem shook off his stupor and sprinted into Redshift, zigging down the mouth
of an alley, zagging down another, heading toward what the map in his head
told him was Happy Ivory Park, an ancient dental complex that still scraped
and extracted a living from Redshift clientele. Damnation! In the five seconds
he'd taken to pause in the street -- he'd been tagged with an IPC fix. Smacking
his lips and rubbing his tummy in response to the Taco Tremendo projection
(events now undoubtedly documented on Greenet holofilm) had almost certainly
sealed the mandatory purchase agreement. Normally, an IPC (implied purchase
consent) lock could not be easily broken, but sometimes, if you moved fast
enough-the net would abandon a small, confirmed sale. Unfortunately this
time it was not to be. As he raced toward Happy Ivory -- A cheery Mexican
greeting blared a few yards overhead.
"¿Tiene hambre hijo?"
Looking up in terror, he saw a demon descending from the sky. A magfloat
disk crafted in the shape of an orange sombrero hovered over him, its delicate
pilot thread snaking back behind it through the hot smoggy air. Yanking
down his nanocyte filter mask to breath more freely, he raced into the heart
of the small park with its playground equipment resembling giant dental
work. As he paused to gasp for breath by a six foot ceramic molar, he found
the orange sombrero affectionately nudging his elbow.
"Eh chico! -- ¿Deseas salsa caliente, o medio?" it purred.
Swiftly, Jem dove under some massive and expensive looking bridgework and
around the edge of a giant bicuspid, with the sombrero at his heels. In
an instant the delicate pilot thread looped the obstruction, snarled and
snapped. With a fading cry of "Ay ca-ar-r-rumb-a-a-a!" the sombrero
skittered across the parkturf like an ancient Frisbee and lay still.
Was there a chance for escape now? Just barely -- but it was not to be.
Jem was scrambling to reach the edge of the park -- when the backup sombrero
swooping in from the west zapped him to the turf with a needle in the neck.
Rolling groggily on his side, he pulled out the dart, and with already fuzzing
vision he tried to read the required label: 2 ccs of appetite enhancer --
10 ccs of stims, some cheap narrative hallucinogens (at least no nanocytes
-- too costly for this score) -- the rest was already unreadable. As he
dizzily attempted to rise, the $100 bill was plucked deftly from his fingers
"One Taco Tremendo for you, señor," broadcast the backup
sombrero, " -- medium hot sauce, IPC log 23819a, $18.75 at moment of
purchase, automatic fine for illegal IPC evasion, and sombrero repair, $14.29.
IPC total is $43.04. Here is your change. Will there be anything else? Fried
ice cream, perhaps? Ensalada?"
The words marched into his brain like an army of occupation, but on a conscious
level, Jem was barely aware of them. Inside his skull, bright Hispanic canvases
were unfolding. A chorus of red chili peppers cascaded in front of a lemony
yellow sunset, while a twenty foot high nortena band gyrating in costumes
of embroidered purple satin sang of love that would somehow never be denied
if a host of delicacies from the Taco Tremendo à la carte menu were
on the table. One of the young women singing appealed to him in particular,
with her lithe brown body and small perfect breasts (each in this scale
a yard in diameter) filling her flowered white blouse to perfection. Their
eyes met. She ceased to sing. Her moist lips mouthed his name. She stepped
from the stage and diminished to almost human scale as she descended toward
him with a smile on her face as bright as yellow corn. Out of nowhere a
Taco Tremendo appeared in her small hand -- a trickle of sauce adorning
her perfect wrist. With a giggle, she lifted her arm, balancing the taco,
and licked it off with a cool pink tongue.
"NO THANKS! I DON'T WANT ANYTHING ELSE," Jem shouted, loud enough
for the IPC nets to digest the negative morphemes without legal ambiguity
-- and the illusion vanished. Snatching up his considerably depleted bill,
he leapt to his feet and raced past the sign at the parks edge that read:
"The tooth will make you free!" Heart pumping and chest heaving,
he made a beeline back to the maze of alleys, leaving the Taco Tremendo
askew on its plastic thermaplate, drooling an orange stain onto the parkturf.
His ears burned with shame as he ran through the maze of grim alleys that
led through the heart of Redshift, averting his eyes from its seductive
billboards and storefronts, clutching the bill which now bore only a rapidly
vanishing hint of Gary Bauer's piety on the dark and somehow sad complexion
of Jesse Jackson Jr. that adorned the fifty dollar bill. Never in his short
life had Jem been so exhausted. Under the hot sun he was perspiring heavily,
cursing the black suit that weighed on his limbs like blankets of iron.
Although perilously short of breath, he dared not stop to rest. Not now.
His head swirled from the unaccustomed stims that made his testicles pulse
at the memory of the Taco Tremendo girl and embroidered the Redshift sidewalks
with unending processions of tiny plump Aztec-like figures raising an endless
train of offerings of corn to a sunny taco toasting diety above. Not an
auspicious beginning, he thought. Not at all. After only a few minutes of
being "out there," he had lost nearly half of his capital in the
first block of Redshift, displaying a carelessness even a smaller child
might have avoided -- and weakening his system against further attempts.
Secret terror filled him as he raced along the filthy narrow streets that
constituted the contingency route to the Arab/Chinese grocery known as Wong
Abdoul's. Was it just possible that a piece of him (surely only a very small
piece of him, a very small piece) wanted him to fail? Some flawed trait
inherited from his father perhaps, a secret part of him that wanted to plunge
into a world of consumer illusions while his body served greenstreem as
a walking/talking factory for some exotic protein or neurotransmitter? Served
greenstreem that is, until the day when he grew too old, and his value as
a "free running" asset would be over, and he would be sent to
the chopshops of Redwind to have his body deconstructed by creditors, his
brain consigned to the Greenet neurobanks, and his flesh oxidized to the
dusty skies of Lower LA.
This and similar horrible thoughts pursued him as he fled beneath the shadows
of buildings, racing with determination through the labyrinth of alleys,
struggling to breathe the thick, unfiltered air. Somewhere, he knew, high
over his head in the great upstairs/outstairs, beyond earth, air, and the
yellow smog of LA -- wealth expanded mindlessly into realms of space and
lifeless cold; driven by cheap fusion, and fractally extended nets of continuously
improving nanotech macrosets.
It was said that a single "worldmaker" nanotech macroset could,
say, transform the nearby Redshift quadrant into a copy of ancient Athens,
with all the modern conveniences of plumbing, power, and microcommunications,
in less than an afternoon. But that would never happen. Who would hire an
interior decorator to please cattle, or redecorate the barns where they
were kept? For that's what most human beings had become, cattle-serving
the needs of a solsystem capital matrix whose only passion was to expand
and recreate itself for the rest of time. Macrosets were supervised by biochip
hardware, which in turn was managed by biosentient software vats whose neural
juices were milked from the denizens of Redshift colonies primarily on Earth
and Mars. But even with these vastly extended software nets, growth was
scarcely under human control. Over the decades, thousands of decision-making
control systems had had "growth is good" imperatives baked into
their silicon bones, and such systems continued to manifest themselves more
aggressively than Greenet could restrain them, cranking out growth without
meaning and without end.
Had the macrosets gone mad? The Savers believed they had. Attempts by Greenet
to discipline some macrosets by restricting their power flows had led to
suspicious blackouts in Greenet headquarters on Earth and Mars. Bugs, they
said -- but efforts at control thereafter had been exclusively directed
toward trying to influence the direction and shape of the untameable forces
of growth rippling outward toward the stars. Savers knew that it was in
order to regain control of the macrosets that Greenet milked humanity of
its neurotransmitters, struggling to reachieve a mastery that was now only
feigned. Some day, when faster-than-light drives came into being, this dangerous
growth could be safely thrust outward toward the stars -- but no such drives
yet existed, and none were likely to be invented soon. What would happen,
Greenetters worried in the false security of their luxury cyberdomes --
should this mindless growth reach the rim of the solar system and rebound?
Upstairs, outstairs, into the endless night, leviathans folded and unfolded
on distant moons, carving labyrinths in inanimate rock, unrolling real estate
on ancient asteroids, inexplicably building airless condominiums by the
thousand on the uninhabitable wastes of Uranus, and the moons of Jupiter,
constructing skyscrapers on Saturn and vast complexes on Venus that had
no known purpose, and often did not function at all -- only to rip them
down, and start again. Here were satellites of robots repairing robots,
vast factories manufacturing machinery to manufacture more machinery --
a virus of metal, ceramic, composite, plastic, and silicon mindlessly pouring
out into solsystem and the synthetic satellites beyond, constantly modifying,
expanding, and reswallowing itself -- sometimes unfolding for decades in
obscure, unmonitored quadrants without conceivable purpose, or the benefit
of human review. Endless inflation, endless development, growth toward no
known or dreamed of conclusion, leaving something in its distant wake on
long forgotten earth what no machine could possibly experience or comprehend:
crushing, infinite, and unredeemable debt -- walls closing in on the human
spirit, converging to the rim of an unspeakable pit -- the vortex of a maelstrom
-- a dark red hole twisting and diminishing into unimaginable space.
Read another excerpt from Redshift: Greenstreem in CBR
Order Redshift: Greenstreem
directly from Cambridge Book Review Press
$8.00 (plus $2 shipping)
Rod Clark is a life-long Wisconsin resident. A professional writer and media-consultant,
he is also the editor of Rosebud,
a national magazine for people who enjoy good writing.
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