Excerpt from Chapter 3: SNS and Sensibility
Somewhere in an ancestor's attic.
No. My grandparent's basement.
That means little, except for the smell of half-century old pressure-treated wood, rusting tools, and hardened model glue.
I'm lying on the floor. Which looks grayer than wood from collecting dust. My footsteps have imprinted craters on the surface of this lunar landscape. Grandpa's working table seems an astronomically large spaceship in orbit above this satellite.
All is still.
I line the dead beetles, flies, and honey bees collected from the windowsill near the edge of a foot crater.
They are marching. Silent in the slushy lunar gravity.
Next to each body, I write an indecipherable glyph. "These dudes have jobs," a younger version of my voice whispers.
I follow the line, ensuring each and every insect has a duty along with a categorizable glyph.
At the end of the line, I catch sight of a glistening cube beneath the tattered lay-z-boy my grandpa smokes in. "Adult medicine, beaubeau. Maybe we can share a puff when you're older." His voice an old, empty popcorn tin with kindling wood crackling inside.
The faint shards of light persist beneath the fringe of the recliner's skirt. I crawl on the moon surface toward it, and reach beneath into the darkness, one eye on the impossibly dark cube.
The basement suddenly grows brighter, and the smell of weed and tobacco seep down the stairs.
"There you are, beaubeau!"—
Thayvon abruptly wakes to the sound of his phone notifying him that it is, indeed, presently 707am, the time he has requested to be awoken on a daily basis. "Thanks. You can stop, now." The alarm quietens and the window tint fades from 80% to 10%. He notices that it's brighter out, which means spring is getting closer. This brings a muscle-memory smile to his sleep-dry mouth.
"Coffee, please," and a click and hum silently proceeds from the kitchen.
Thayvon reluctantly folds his legs over the mattress, inviting the cold into his boxers, and immediately feeling the pressure to run to the toilet. But his sleepy mass can only move so quickly, and he oafishly stomps his way to relief. As he sits down on the toilet, a feed notification comes through: "#rimera / NYTimes has posted a review of Rimera ß3.1.1. Would you like me to paraphrase, read complete, save, or trash?"
"Hunh. They're a bit late on the pick-up. What's a conservative paper doing reviewing a black market SNS, anyway?" … "Oh, yeah, sure, can you read complete? Thanks."
He sits at his small two-person dining table, sipping his latte and looking out toward the city's glowing horizon. His space is small, only about four hundred square feet, but much of the amenities are hidden in the walls. The entire wall opposite the front door is triple-ply three inch glass — strong enough to withstand a missile, yet flexible enough to sway with the summer winds, and in earthquakes, if one ever occurred, it is able to withstand more than two tons of force. He has his bed and dining table pushed up against it, as if his life is lived floating on a cloud. He likes bragging about that detail. Space isn't much of an issue, especially since four hundred square feet is average on the edge of Zone 3. In fact, many of his friends have smaller spaces themselves, and they are several zones out from him.
He realizes he isn't paying attention to the reader, having completely dressed and packed his gear up. He pauses the feed, throws his phone in his pocket and headphones in his ears, presses "continue" on the feed and exits his apartment.
It is definitely brighter, and warmer, for a march morning. Still, the cold is sharp, and he pulls his jacket up against the wind. The shadows on the blocks make polygon slices of every surface, creating a surreal, virtual atmosphere of every neighborhood he passes. "I'll definitely be getting a call later to join the crew for drinks."
"—the dimensionsal expanse of Thayvon Khosa's beta, named Rimera ß3.1.1, shows how incredible an underground talent he has become. Though relatively secret, and definitively unregistered and illegal, Khosa has built a SNS model that has logged more than 6 million downloads after only a week on his server: making it the highest downloaded beta in history. And this makes us question, here on the SNS review floor, what the secretive SNS regulations board will do with a sea changer like this, if anything at all."
Thayvon walks as transportation to as many destinations as are possible. There are the red car services, bikes, and trains, but he moved this close to the city center so he wouldn't have to employ those modes. He loves watching the city evolve. The storefront signs fading from one emergent brand to another, each gleaming a fraction of the identity of the previous, as if the owners own the realty space rather than the product, and the product is merely a coincidental property of their being a physical space at all. There are the crucial shops, however, like Bard Control, for impeccable, handcrafted clothing; FūnMobyl, a mobile shop owned by a German immigrant who — according to the owner that can be seen smoking a thumb-thick joint out front sometimes — used to design for a luxury car company in Luxemborg before The Fall; and his favorite pho shop, the indiscriminate, and surprisingly permanent Pho #1873.
As much as he likes to walk, however, the market is on the outskirts of Zone 3, marking the edge of where 3 and 4 touch. It is the best place to setup shop, as this market increases his chances of clientele. Not only is he able to scale his prices for zone 3 and 4 residents, but Zone 2 rich folks are still willing to venture this far before running into the more gutsy Pickers.
The Zone 3 market holds over six hundred thousand citizens on any given day. The permanent fixtures, like street lamps and park benches, consist of the denizens of the night: trolls, pigeons, and crackheads digging through the trash-speckled edges of buildings whose sole intake of vitamin D are the scraps of sunlight that manage to creep through the holes of each seller's "tents" and the towering skyscrapers above them. This market, unlike the other zones, is off limit to legal regulation, and, therefore, is steadily growing a new one hundred thousand shoppers at a weekly pace. Trinkets, trash mostly, is sold. Hardware for the adventurous, software for those who don't care much for life.
Pickers can be found at nearly every third stall; their dead bot guts sprawled out like meat-mongers in the food district, tables never clean of petroleum lubricants, phenolic resin dust, and solder bits like dead ants. The regulars know the best bot wares are never found at the stalls, but in questionable back alleys, where buyers take the risk of getting a wrench stuck in their skull. Pickers, above any pedestrian found breathing in a market like this, are sketchier than the crackheads. One knows, at least, that a crackhead is too scared to attack anything larger than a loaf of bread. But Pickers are the band of pirates of this city's time. Of late, news reports have been funneling through the media trenches, spotlighting a band of Pickers known as FranKenstYn. Their symbol consisting of a bolt with a nut on each end. They take to breaking and entering into apartments in Zone 1, trashing the place, and kidnapping service bots and hardware. Several human deaths have occurred under their regime, as well.
Thayvon sits at his remarkably clean stall. There are no wares or products on the table, just a clean cloth depicting a transexual buddha, eyes partially shut in the ecstasy of nirvana, electrical nodes sprouting from its head like nuclear halos. In one hand are fingers clasped in the sign of "ohm", another hand clasps a lit joint through gentle fingers (the smoke's end snaking out a stream of zeros and ones), in another a knife, and one more holding a magnifying glass. With his arms at his side, he taps on the sides of his chair. What looks to be a habit of tapping out a beat is actually him typing in lines of code. A round, two inch disk rests on his temple, being held by a clip that wraps around his ear. Extending from the disk is a small eighth-inch shaft, measuring four inches in length, and extending upwards and into the thick forest of his dreadlocks. With his left eye, he keeps a visual channel open to the market, but with his right eye, he is deep in the code of a customized version of Rimera that is bugging out. To the right of his stall stands a well-off banker, the customer. The man has his arms crossed in a message of "I am uncomfortable here… with all these… these people." Thayvon is half-watching him, amused by his lofty better-than-thou sourpuss face. These types make up the majority of his clientele in physical form. He is often asked to make house calls, or, at least, to open a shop or stall in a more central zone, but Thayvon enjoys forcing the coalescence of classes like this. It gives them a perspective on life outside of the hedonist utopia they encounter on a regular basis. If pleasure is all one experiences, then one's definition of pleasure will become skewed and grotesque, as if life is some living entity that requires balance and will create balance if its master rejects it.
He had seen this in SNS commissions from obscure billionaires requesting odd models. Once, he'd designed a dungeon that housed a sixty-foot, four-legged human beast with partially amphibian-scaled skin. The beast had the face of a woman, hair like tendrils of seaweed, and a mouth filled with razor sharp yellowing teeth. Her sixteen breasts sagged with the weight of their massiveness, and between her legs would grow an elephant-sized dick whose end was as jagged as the horns on the beast's back. It took constant, almost obsessive, drawings by the client for Thayvon to get it right. As most of these masochistic SNSs went, the billionaire wanted the climax of the episode to end with the beastly concoction tearing his body in two. Thayvon remembered spending days on the pain threshold so the client wouldn't die in the SNS. He knows of several underground designers who unabashedly design, verbatim, their clients' wishes, only to buy themselves years (and in one case, a life sentence) in prison for frying the viewer's brain.
Thayvon taps in the closure footer on the code, compiles it, and plugs into the SNS—
The credits roll in — I have to, eventually, get around to shrinking the size of my logo for the intro template — and blackness fades out to a gaussian-blurred living room. The smell of cigarettes, weed, incense, body. In the background is the damp smell of tea, freshly brewed. I enter the kitchen, grabbing the two cups, pausing momentarily to admire the swirl of steam rise from the remaining water in the kettle. It's spring, so the ribbon is faint, taking the shards of light stabbing through the kitchen window to cut through the middle of the ribbon and project it.
I return to the living room, clouded with smoke and the handmade textiles of vishnu and buddha. The walls are haphazardly collaged with antique british new wave and punk posters. On the couch, which looks more like a massive bed with arm rests, in front of the window, is Riméra, sprawled out and reading Aristotle's de Anima. I smirk. That placeholder will have to be cut from her library, I'm sure this guy won't appreciate the irony. She is concentrating, subconsciously drumming a beat on her thigh. Each finger tap ripples the jersey cotton dress, making micro ripples that eventually die on the shores of her knees. She's thinking of a song, or parts of it, at least, and after finishing the next chapter, she will suddenly run to her studio to lay out the idea that has been bothering her.
Not today, though. Today is our day off, and we're staying in to watch classic movies, smoke up, and spoon on this behemoth couch of her's.
She looks up. "Oh, shit, sorry. I got stuck finishing this page. Is the tea done already?"
"Yep. How's the book?"
"Eh. Ancient. And, I've yet to get through all the categorizing he does." I can see her fidgeting, wanting to run to her studio to drop the ideas she is trying to hide her fingers from strumming on the mug of tea.
"Go." The emotional draft in the code is so powerful that I feel them pound down on me, even in this half-out state. This is important to keep in and not comment out of the code, however, as forgetting just one character can collapse the entire effect.
"Hunh?" She looks up innocently, pretending to be confused, but as the seconds pass, she grows a small, mischievous smile. She knows I know her too well. She jumps up with a huge smile, kisses me, and runs to her studio.
She slams the door behind her, and the sound of thumping, hi-hats, crunch claps, and rhodes sketch their way beneath the sound-proofed door and into the living room. I sit staring at the screen, concentrating hard to sever myself from the environment to evaluate the structure. The TV is on pause, a VHS whose signal has sliced two frames of time apart, dividing them with a static wave: grain bouncing at the edges like particles of water misting about the precipice of a ripcurl. I figured, when building the original version, that the user would love this retro detail, especially with the seventeen-inch tube television, its colors and noise a welcome antique touch.
I turn my ear toward the window unit, quietly purring and trickling water inside itself. Despite working its cool into the apartment, the fabrics on the couch, posters, canvases of art from her friends (one large one depicting a green devil pissing on a nude, erect male), and intricate layers of smoke make her apartment unique, cozy, and cave-like from whatever world is outside.
I open the window shades, allowing my eyes to adjust to the bright light outside to focus on a moderately busy street of an older America. It could be Portland, Baltimore, or Pittsburgh, but not many, save for historians, will able to define it as anything true. It was built from an archive of all three: 1980s era imagery, video footage, census data, and maps. Then again, knowing his taste, maybe this man will be able to figure that out, if he actually takes a moment to inspect the exterior. To be safe, I note to lay in several more blocks, in case anyone wants to take a walk to the bodega, for the proper release.
Thayvon pulls out. He opens the terminal console again. This type of glitch really throws SNS users off. Disorientation causes nausea and headaches, not to mention, an overwhelming sense of loss and confusion even after shutting the SNS off. Luckily, he has pinpointed the error. He reads through the log, and, one by one, clears the insufficient lines from the SNS. Customizing a beta release with tiny details and on a speedy deadline, no less, for multiple clients always bears glitches like these.
"Alright. That's it. No more chopped-up ladies." He compiles the build, ejects the drive, and hands it to the suited man. The man drops a 30 on the table, and skirts off tucking the drive into his inside jacket pocket. Thayvon calls out after him, "Nah, man, this is on warranty. You don't have to— Well, nevermind."
In the distance, past where the man disappears into market parusers, a large vehicle pulls into a parking space sideways. Sleek, nearly hovering on the asphalt, it is a vehicle make Thayvon is unable to identify. A slender man steps out, his clothing looking like a costume by how crisp and old of a style it is. A suit cut that Thayvon had only seen in books. The man grabs a couple eyes as a spectacle. He closes the door behind him. The window rolls down an inch or two, as the man stands completely still, unmoved, looking directly at Thayvon. The window rolls back up, and the man walks over to Thayvon, ignoring all the other booths. His purposefulness frightens Thayvon, and if the market wasn't so crowded, he would've made for an alley, weaving his way back to his apartment to never come back to this market again. This is it, Thayvon thinks. The regulation board has finally come for my head.
Thayvon stays at his booth, pretending not to see the man. When he comes to the table, he notices the perfection of the make-up of the man. The suit's buttons are all clasped. The fabric without a speck of hair or dust. Calm, determined, and projected steps are made as he comes to his stall and places a small rectangular sheet of paper on the table.
"A commission has been requested by my master." The accent is without placement, race, or geography. As sharp and determined as his strides. With the tip of his gloved finger he turns the card face up to Thayvon and pushes it forward. Thayvon looks at it, amazed at such an object. He'd seen classic movies wherein a business man would give one of these to another. They were seen, as he could tell, as some sort of status symbol. On the thick paper textured with microscopic peaks and valleys, are imperfect letters in deep forest green, spelling out "Ansel Liu Haeso" and then another line with "P 01 09 646 4691833". Thayvon notes that the second set of double digits marks him in the highly secure and vast Zone 9.
"Okay. What will it be? And before you start asking for rape adventures, I don't do those. See Buck over to your right about five stalls down."
"The details, far greater than that of some frail SNS shall not be discussed here."
Thayvon lets out a long, questioning "Okaaay."
"On the opposite side of that card, you shall find an address of a beverage venue wherein I will discuss, if you are interested, the commission in greater detail."
"Look, I don't do house calls."
"This is not a house call. I assure you that compensation, and…" he pauses, but doesn't move a single facial muscle, "you will be given hardware that will be compensation in and of itself, Thayvon Khosa."
Thayvon's brow bends down like sand sinking through the whirlpool of an old-fashioned timer. He asks, "Wait, when?" But the man turns on what may have been a perfect 180° axis and walks back, not looking anywhere but the car he stepped out from. He speaks softly, but his voice seems to travel from the back of his head.
"Whenever you are ready. We will know when you're there.”