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SLICE & DICE

a neo-space-opea speculative fiction novella

introductory preamble

Good day Internet. Here a string of words and sentences I've managed to arrange into a story. This is my first effort on Devtome. Sort of a pilot, I suppose. I've been a hobbyist writer for most of my adult life. I have published a few stories here and there. But the market for fiction is in pretty rough shape these days: hopefully sites and ideas like this here at devtome will contribute to new avenues spanning from writers to readers. Hopefully works readers like will triumph over money-motivated word-barfs; good versus evil, round #984332412412, begin. Thanks for reading.

Note: working on properly formatting the story right now. Give me a minute!


I. AnswerTown Box Hall

              “You, have, arrived,” said the cab. “At, two-fifteenth, and, and, and, bbzzzzzzz,” the speakers hissed, as the cab’s words fell into a faint static crackle.

            “And a two-bit box hall,” said Dash, before stepping out of the cab, surveying the area.

            It was a cold night in the wardens of Bounty Hill, a decrepit and ageing plaza of penny arcades on the edge of technological obsolescence, long since exploited by the commercial authority of Kohn. An undecorated, unadvertised plaza; an architect’s placeholder design so since-exploited and forgotten that even the homeless here had little left to steal from or to beg to, most since having travelled along to better city blocks – ones not layered with garbage and the black dust of industrial waste, collecting in channels amongst cracked, unpaved plasticrete streets, that led only to factories with windows and doors long since welded shut, in this forlorn and forgotten corner of an unpopular human land baron’s demesne. 

            Dash stood almost alone in the central square. Besides himself, there was but one other Dash could spy: a burnt-out, blank-staring, ragged work-a-day synthetic human standing on the other side of the plaza, unsteadily, on only one, spindly, uncertain leg, propped up against a slowly – yet somehow still – pulsating commercial sign. Not even a reclaimant bot, nor a watchful floating eye of the Kohn  Situational Authority, nor a haggard veteran of one of mankind’s recent wars dwelled here, this far from anyplace that was worthy of mention upon on any tourist’s guide, except perhaps those that specialized in the obscure. Upon the sign, next to the seen-better-days synth, was written, in patchwork of small lights: AnswerTown.

            Dash, weaving slightly, walked towards the sign, avoiding the eyes of the synth, who he knew, without doubt, would attempt to solicit him for money in some way or another, as he came close.

            “Spare-a cent, my-my microoo-hooman friend,” said the beggar, stringing his words together with uncertainty. “One-pen-e,” he begged

            “No,” Dash said as he walked by, triggering the opening of the door into AnswerTown. A beam flitted across his face as a billow hot and slightly smoke air hit his nostrils; a dry pungent smell of burnt out electric circuits. Even the door was having troubles coping in this city block of entropy and decay: it creaked as it opened, slowly sliding against the ground. Dash grabbed hold and helped it open, revealing a long and narrow corridor that led eventually to darkness. Here and there were a few more citizens milling about; mostly humans, dressed as unfashionably as Dash. A row of amber and blue lights hung low on the ceiling, illuminating the products for sale: answers, to almost all varieties of questions, was what you could buy here: whatever you wanted to hear, for a price. But with no guaranteed refund for any answers.  

            The light was so dim it was hard to make out the words running atop each box that lined the hall. Each box was a temporary placement: taken from some other arcade, fair, mall, or off-world bazaar; and each marked with scruffs and scrawls of these travels, with logos and names rendered in street paints always being painted over. The size of one of those dressing rooms you could still find at the cheaper clothing stores – the ones with ratty cloth curtains, with just enough room for a obese baseline man to stand in – you could never guess when and where they would be cycled. The same old arcades with a new selection of old boxes. Coming and going like a polluted tide. 

            The static, simple no-flourish script of  Englese words was all the advertising permitted to describe the contents of each box – an edict decided upon no doubt for the keeping away the maniac energy and annoyance of advertisements and spam so common in these otherwise dark corridors.  

            Dash knew what box he wanted: he had been there once before, and the advice actually wasn’t all that bad. 

            //Dr. Eros: Memetic Sexual Healing// – read the first box, on Dash’s left. 

            //Professor Piop223’s Ioclees Koans Stimulations//– read the second box, on Dash’s right.

            Dash walked further down the hall.

            //Dr. No-Ill Balms and Lotions//. //Fortunes Of// //The Great Zoltene//. Dash walked on.  //Obscuro’s Essential Earth Connotations. Your Good Buddy Frank’s Straight-up Advice//, read the next. //Chef Cindy’s Japatalian Delights//. And on and on along, until Dash found the box he was after.

           //Dr. William Glasser 3.0.3a//, //Reality Therapy// said the simple scrolling letters atop the box.

            Dash rapped on the box. “Empty, my friend – please do come in,” said a voice from inside, as the sound of dry gears turned, and a slow door slid open. “Poignant, precise counselling and recommendations focused on the here-and-now given by one the premier adjudicators of the needs and desires of the complex foibles of the human, and h-synthetic, mind. No virtual personalities. Only fifty cents a minute…” the sales pitched droned on, in the simulation of an old, carefully articulated voice, with a particular twang of accent that Dash could not place.

            All that was in the box was a bench, and a cube of transparent plastic, about half the size of Dash. 

            “Hey doc, remember, me,” said Dash, as he climbed onto the bench that was built for bigger clients.

            An image of an old-Earth style man appeared – with those curious, now uncommon features: the larger nose, on which a pair of archaic metal and glass vision enhancers rested; the thin teeth, scraggly hair,  excessive wrinkles lining his forehead of very white skin – floating above the plastic cube. The fatherly voice said: “Just one moment – ah! Dashen Clark6, yes, yes,” said William Glasser, version 3.0.3a.

            “Thought you might,” said Dash, getting comfortable as he could on the plastic flat bench that titled slowly, left and right, in slow motion of defense against homeless human snoozers, or homeless synths, sheltering for a quick defragmentation.

            “Mister Corporal Clark6, retired. Veteran of the Army Mechanized Infantry Engineering core, yes, yes – I know you –” The doctor’s image froze for a second. Dash reached across, and slapped the cube. ”–yes, yes, know you well, shall we?”

            Dash readjusted in his seat. “Yes we shall.”

            “Ahem-ah’,” said William Glasser 3.0.3a, looking down towards the cube, “shall we then?”

            “Oh right,” Dash said. “Guess ya wanna get paid, doc.” Dash made a authorized the payment through his ring-PC on his right hand. “Fifty cents deposited – just one minute, let’s do it quick, I got more problems than cash, ‘kay Doc?”

            “Certainly.” The doctor doctor nodded. Then vanished. Replaced by a simple-text read-out of florescent green text:

___________________________________________________________________________________

session lNET: akemvepawntecmtq: begin Mon, 19 Kel 1864 10:49:01 -0700*

connecting iNET: zone.1004….connect 512gbs, ip 533.789.0.0.436.54/

connecting pNET: Kohn.0….connect 512gbs, ip 533.789.0.0.436.54 -

negotiating identification certification…success\

connecting pNET:HPSrelay12_NV…success|

connecting pNET:Kohn.0….connect 4096gps, ip 86.14.4.98.785.414.4.852*

accessing “Dashen Gustav Clark6”…success/

protocol autoselect: humanENGstandard [visible] [audio] -

Hit any key to continue or say “start” to begin… 

___________________________________________________________________________________ 

            “Start,” Dash said.

            “My good friend Mister Clark-six, where would you like to begin,” said the re-projected doctor, his mouth looking large enough to swallow Dash whole.

            “I still don’t have any idea what to do with myself, and I’ve been out of the service for eight months now –” The doctor looked like he was about to answer but Dash motioned it away with the wave of a hand. ”– I can hardly get out of bed in the morning, I don’t have a purpose anymore, and the dreams are back, of the caves, from the time last I was telling ya about…”

            “Troubling dreams are warning signs, nothing more, they will fade away once we deal with your primary motivation is here: your lack of purpose,” said the giant face, with two burrowing, acute eyes looking at Dash.

            “Well, yeah,” said Dash. “Purpose – sort of what I said,” said William Glasser 3.0.3a.

            “Right,yes, right – purpose!” The doctor tapped his chin thoughtfully with a giant finger that came into the projection.

            “This is big money for not much doc,” said Dash.

            The doctor froze for a minute – as if by some glitch, perhaps network traffic – then resumed: “Purpose is not something that you can catch and harness, Dash – it must follow come from your own desires: initiated by you, yourself, and propel you to manifest a change in behaviour – “my folder shows that you have been keeping busy with something,” the doctor probed.

            Dash pursed his lips. “Huh well,” Dash said. “I haven’t been up to much at all,” said Dash.

            “Your…watch-building,” the doctor offered.

            “The watches –” Dash guffawed. “You mean the arm clocks?” Dash smiled. “Just do that to forget about everything else,” Dash said.

            “Any productive behaviour – in your case, watches – in your situation – are not mere distractions Dashen Clark6, if you are doing them.” William Glasser 3.0.3a licked his lips: a giant pink splotched thing coming out his mouth, cross-hatched with a indistinct stripes of cheap definition.

            “In fact,” the doctor continued, “the simple, controllable mechanics of watch-making are a healthy expression of your –” here the image froze again. Technicolour fractal patterns splashed across the doctor’s forehead – sigils of heavy network traffic; or an overheating processor worked too long too hard. Then, again reanimation: the doctor’s brow furrowed. “Healthy expression of your,” he repeated, “obsessive compulsive inclination to avoid decisions, as evidenced negatively, by your reliance on your so-called ‘dice of fate’, as you called them last –”

            “Back to the arm-clocks: what good could they do me? My pension hardly puts food on the table anymore, with this boondoggle deflation all climbing crazy up every new day.” Dash leaned forward on his seat, raised his chin, waiting on the doctor’s next words. “I need a new job.”

            “Dashen Clark6.” A new, female voice chimed in, from William Glasser’s moving lips: “Thirty seconds remaining.”

            “Fast time,” said Dash.

            “My assistant tells me that hand-made watches,” said the doctor’s face, with again, the doctor’s voice, “are selling well in Kanata City, with the fashionable au’courant of the local synthetic population.”

            “Synths!” Dash’s eyes widened. “Selling fashion to over-cashed proc’s isn’t something I think I’d have a knack for,” Dash said, his voice betraying a note of interest in his idea, despite his dismissal.

            William Glasser 3.0.3a began to fade away into an pattern of white and black checkerboard. “You have yet to use your 1-D veteran award token…” his voice trailed off into inaudibly as he disappeared.

            Dash sat in silence. “Thanks doc,” he said to the plastic cube in front of him, “you’ve been a big help.”

            Dash sat staring at the plastic cube, tilting back and forth slightly on the slanted anti-homeless bench, until the box asked him politely to leave.

            He walked home.

                                                                                  ##  

            Home again, Dash took a look at his small apartment, trying to measure the benefits or failures of each decision he had yet made.

            “Arm-clocks,” Dash said to himself, looking over his workbench adorned with ceramics, springs, miniature gears, hovering, glowering schematics, oil and rags, files, screws, nails, screwdrivers, hammers, a selection of black numbers, thin and plastic, amongst small piles of refuse and the shavings of metal.

            In his right hand, Dash held a bottle of cherry rice-wine. In his left hand, Dash held a pair of dice. He threw them against the wall – more of a toss than a roll – and they bounced off, hitting the floor on an easy angle and rolled, turning over only once or twice, before coming to a stop, close to his feet.

            Dash’s dice came up two fives.

            “Zab…” Dash took a big mouthful of wine. “Guess I’m headin’ to Kanata City.”

===II. Reactivated=== 

II. Reactivated

“Please, come right this way,” said the clerk, motioning down a hallway. “Your token entitles you to one free slave, human, or marsipi, synth or naturals – but only a class C or lower – as we were explaining earlier.”

            “Got’cha – still thinking it’ll be synth,” said Dash, as he walked a brisk pace, trying to keep up with the clerk, with his short, micro-human sized legs. They progressed deeper down a narrowing hallway, that ended with an old fashioned door: it had a two-hand metal handle that seemed both out of time and place.  “So ya, these are all unclaimants right? No records? What sort of classification system do you…how are they arranged exactly, I was wondering..?”

            The clerk grabbed hold of the handle and dropped one knee slightly, in a motion to improve his leverage against the door’s heavy handle. Before opening the steel door – big enough for a macro-human to enter, about an eight-foot width – the clerk turned; then looked down to find Dash, who barely came up to  his waist. “Dashen Clark6 – ”

            ” – just called me Dash.” The air was dry, stale and antiseptic, like the taste of dust and bleach in your mouth: Dash turned his head and spat, in an effort to rid himself of it. It was overwhelming.

           The clerk measured a perfunctory scowl. “I’ll ask you not to spit in here,” said the clerk, then turned back towards the door, grabbing a hold again of the latch. The door droned acknowledgement of the clerk’s security clearance as as gasp of gas broke from the hinges, and the door opened a crack. ”//As// mister Jah Ham-Eighty Eighty was saying, all the synths in the C section of Sammy’s Fine Slave Emporium are basically unknowns. Like most un-gov databases, all of our records were wiped in the last virt’ war – thanks to //our// very fine zoomer friends – all we can say – all we //should// say, legally speaking, that is – is that all the unregistered synths in section C have no benefactors or known relations, and were generally claim-less and found abandoned without power between ‘56 and ‘63 – that’s all –”

            “Fine, fine,” Dash stepped back, as the large steel door began to slowly swing open. “Shall we? We shall,” Dash turned, and again spat on the floor, after answering his own question. 

            The clerk’s eyes followed the spit as it splashed the gray rubber-crete floor. He scowled and shook his head. Under his breath, barely heard, he mumbled: “Micro’ze…” Then released an exaggerated sigh. 

            “Sorry, wish I brought a spare shirt to cover my mouth with,” Dash said, his eyes widening as the door opened, while he tried to fake a cough. “Place smells like fifty-cent Fairlight slut, I swear,” he added for good measure.

            The clerk shook his head, as slow as the concrete door parted; eyes locked, looking down to the impolite little mini-man beneath him. “As you were saying, let us get on with this – you have fifteen minutes to choose your slave. Call me when you have decided.”

            The door opened. The door opened to a world of possibilities.

            Behind Dash, he could hear the clerk scurry off down the hallway, feet scratching along the floor.  Before him was the synth section of the slave warehouse: it was a large room, with a ceiling at least three storeys high. Row stalked upon row of man-sized, cloudy transparent cubes dominated the room; six rows in all. In each, was a standing, lifeless synth, suspended in green-tinged gas. Each cube held a vastly different and unique synth; no two were alike. Dash suspected previously that these slaves had just been androids marketed as synths – not actual once-was’es, with lives and personalities and hopes, dreams, vices and foibles and friends; before Dash lay forty-eight ostensible citizens of the human protectorate.

            First to catch his eye was a silver synth, with large spheres for feet. Perhaps a waiter or delivery man in a prior life, judging from his lines – before whatever auspices of random fate had him (or her) stuck without power or accomplice in the last virt war, when nearly all information was lost. Every bit of data on every byte of memory owned by humans, deleted in a night, by a pNET system self-aware worm with the computational ability of million or so disembodied political malfeasants, trying to prove some point or another; a point quickly forgotten when human civilization collapsed for a day, back when Dash had just entered basic Army training. 

           Beside that silver synth, frozen in the next cube, tinged in a green gas with red streams wisping through it in long streaks and snakes, was a battered old blue-collar synth. With cheap, grossly mechanic pinchers for hands, a common – but long since obsolete – modular GaMMete Incorporated body, stained and scored with varying scars and black-carbon filled pockmarks, up and down its torso. And on its face: four vacant telescoping eyes; all pointing in different directions – the entire synth’s body was a testament to a mediocre life; nothing but ordinary. Or at least, that was the impression Dash gleaned from him, staring at his nakedness in the containment cube before him. Wondering which one to make his slave.

            “Many choices,” Dash mumbled. Three rows, nine columns, that he could see. “Too many…”

            Dash reached into his pocket. His fingers touched two cool, ersatz ivory little cubes. Dice.  He brought them out. “Let’s see,” Dash said to himself, doing some quick math, looking at the adornment of cubes. “One-two-three,” he counted, almost under his breath, going along the double-stacked rows of container cubes, each containing a possible synth to bring back into the land of the living. “Eighteen,” Dice totalled.

            The pair of dice, now in his small micro-human hands, had made many the decision for Dash.  Dash had a preference for leaving things to chance. Chance over choice. Dash shook the dice; they rattled around in his hand, at times clacking against a steel ring-PC he wore on his right hand. With a flick of the wrist Dash throw the two eight-sided gray dice along the floor, like a craps player.

            The two dice bounced and rolled to a stop, a few steps away.

            Dash walked over.

            A two and a six: eight. “Cube eight,” he said. The choice has been made. “Hey, proprietor,” Dice said.

            There was no answer.

            “Stiff in the grey,” Dice said.

            This elicited no response. No sound but a faint hum coming from the containment cubes. 

            “Proprietor, clerk, agent,” Dash continued, “service, help.” 

            A projection of the clerk appeared beside Dice. The clerk nodded briefly. “You made up your mind?”

            “Yeah, yeah I did,” said Dash. Bending over to collect the dice, a glitter caught the corner of Dash’s eye.

            “Good, mister Clark-six. Which one could I activate for you?”

            No response forth came.

            One of the two dice had finished its roll against a low-positioned valve, at the foot of a containment cube. What was inside this one struck Dash as unusual; somewhat strange – but particularly what it was, he could not place; it was a fleeting feeling. Inside was a gangly-limb synth.  This one was a far throw away from the last he had looked at, the presumed labourer, that had a the body built for moving matter here and there, over and under…what this synth had made himself for, was not immediately apparent. 

            “What can you tell me about this synth here,” Dash glanced up, ”– cube fourteen,” he said, as he examined the curious, unfortunate fellow before him.

            “Let’s see,” said the dull projection of the clerk, “sex is male positive.” A second elapsed. “We have a name for this one – taken from some somewhat obscure Ardee-Kamosta-Vee live-show blogs,” said the clerk. “The name is – was – Veta six-eighty-six.”

            Dash moved closer,  peering into the container cube, catching incomplete appraisals through the shifting green gas surrounding the cylindrical body of the synth.  There was something particularly unusual about the synth,Veta686, before him – but at first he could not quite place it. Primarily copper-colored – heavily polished, with a sheen as almost as bright as the silver synth a few containment cubes down.  Veta686 stood at roughly seven feet tall, with a torso fastened to long, three-section arms, with bulbous, knobby joints. At the end of these copper cylinder-section arms, were –

            “Yes the hands – I noticed that as well when we brought him in here,” said the clerk.

            “Huh, ya really,” Dash said. “What are they?”

            Besides being the colour of night sky, the synth’s hands looked human.

            “Let’s go through the parts then, shall we?” said the clerk. “It is pretty much all catalogue stuff,” he went on.

            Dash paid no discernible attention to the clerk.

            Sounding perturbed, the clerk droned on, in a salesman’s voice: “We’ll start with the hands then. Those are  Kohn Concepts P5Q-Pro Extra Smooth, Extra Articulation, cybernetics – somewhat odd to find on a synth, as these are generally sold as replacement limbs for humans, or to the bio-borg after-market…”

            Veta686’s torso was a very thin, copper tube – Dash imagined, if he tried, he could fit both his hands around it, and touch finger tips.

            “The frame is a predominately a copper-coated ASUS Nomex ‘56, though it has a two major modifications: one being a Mo-React quick-move system, the other mod, an iridium-uranium circulation tube of unknown origin running through the torso, probably custom, and over-sized, weaved carbon nanotube lattice joints in the arms, street job…” the clerk said.

            That caught Dash’s attention: “Circulation tube?” He guffawed. “What? What’s that for?”

            “Well you’re the veteran robotics engineer,” replied the clerk projection.

            Dash scowled. “That’s a couple of academic trees away from knowing synths,” he responded. “And I’m no super-generalist.”

            “It was probably for delivering coolant to the synth’s brain,” conjectured the clerk. “But we can’t say for sure.”

            Dash stepped back. Like a sun burning through cloud cover on an overcast day, in a moment, green thick swirls of containment cube gas broke, and where before there was an obfuscated outline of the synth’s head, there were now three reflecting eyes – one massive, round, blue and glass; two smaller, red and crescent shaped – staring down at Dash through the cube, lifeless, yet somehow invoking memories in Dash of long gone wars, and quick-build ‘bots he had built from army kits, when the  bombs were falling, loud as thunder,  hollowing down through kilometers of earth…

            “Activate’m,” said Dash, shaking is head, as if it could get rid of the memories.

            “This one,” said the clerk, pointing to the copper synth, “you’re sure.”

            “‘bout as sure as I’m sure,” said Dash. 

            “Follow me then.” The clerk blinked out; then reappeared, re-projected a meter further away from Dash. “To the reactivation room.”

            Dash collected his dice, and followed the projection.

 

                                                                       ##

 

            “Don’t be alarmed,” said the clerk, once again in the flesh, pointing upwards.

            The sound of gears turning and whirring forewarned Dash: he looked up to see a pair of long barrelled cannons descend and extend from an arch set in the ceiling.

            “The synths are not armed or dangerous as far as we legally can commit,” the clerk said, attention focused on a display, where with waving arms he was hitting rows of buttons, that turned green from red, with each sweep of the hand. “Just in case,” he said, giving a quick glace to the cannon above, which shifted its aim slightly, with each passing second.

            The copper synth – Veta686 – was out of the containment cube now, and lying motionless on a steel bed, attached to a spaghetti of tubes and optic cabling.

            “Most of the process is done now – just starting the power flowing again,” said the clerk.

            “Guess you don’t get many micro’s in here huh,” Dash said, looking around. He hopped up, grabbed the edge of the bed, and pulled himself up with a grunt.

            “Careful,” the clerk admonished. “Almost done here – the synth may jerk when he comes through.” Dash stood over the torso of the synth, staring at his new slave to be. “Those arms may look light but they are likely over a hundred kilograms each,” said the clerk, to deaf ears.

            “Get it going,” Dash said, poking the side of the synth’s head with a long, double-knuckled finger. “Got a tea party to go to.”

            The clerk slowly shook his head. “Is that so…stay clear – any second now,” he said. 

           The three eyes were set into a head that was like a big copper pipe balanced from the centre on a stubby, ribbed-plastic neck: cylindrical, slightly oblong, with a cyclop’s eye dominating the middle; two small air-exhaust holes below it; two zig-zag ridges of titanium over the two smaller eyes, as if eyebrow equivalents; and a copper rubber mouth – a rare thing indeed on a synth; as synths often went great lengths to diverge themselves from their anthropomorphic, human heritage. Especially the heavily self-customized ones.

            A machine beeped.

            The clerk tugged on Dash’s shoulder: “Stay clear!” 

            The synth’s eyes lit up – the small ones first, flashing yellow – followed by the big centre eye, which turned a shade of ochre. An animated yellow bolt of yellow lightening appeared on the large eye next, as Veta686’s arms jerked, and his legs spasmed. 

            Then there was nothing as all three eyes turned black.

            “Guess he’s bust?” Dash questioned.

            The clerk shrugged, watching graphs spike and drop, on a projected display above the bed. 

            As if in reply, a high pitched, brief chord emitted from the synth’s head. “Gobble-gobble,” said Veta686.

            Dash hunched over, and hopped onto the floor. From his low vantage point, he saw one black rubber foot come over the edge of the bed, followed by a copper leg, that buzzed as the metal knee articulated. The leg was joined by another as Veta686 swung around on the bed. Dash took a step back to get a better look as the synth sat up. Veta686’s pipe-shaped head wobbled unsteadily on his brief neck. There was a series of ascending octaves coming from Veta686’s torso-tube, as the reawakened synth brought one hand next to head. The synth’s hand made a fist and rapped on his head, as if knocking on a door. “What a night last night,” said the synth. “Woo-e,” said the synth, without much synthesized gusto, as it slunk off the bed, holding on to the side of the steel bed for support.

            Veta686 stood about twice the height of Dash. The synth’s head titled down and the big eye, that had a swirling black-and-white checker board pattern now running through it, telescoped slightly, protruding from its copper orbit, focusing on the micro-human beneath him. “Oh man – my asminator,” said the synth, his head, which weaved about, still unsteady, despite one hand gripping the bed. “I think – ouch,” Veta686 groaned. “I’m straight-up gibbed,” concluded the synth. 

            “What?” asked Dash. “Rough night last night?”

            “I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” said the clerk, already half way out of the chamber. 

            The synth gave a low static-interspersed warble. “Oh geez move little buddy-man,” said Veta686.

            “I’m moving,” said Dash, not moving at all.

            The synth hunched over, with his hands on his knobby knees. A sound like the popping of a bubble came forth as a jet of oily black fluid erupted from the synth’s small mouth, hitting the floor of the activation room with a splash.

            Some of the splash hit Dash’s legs. He tried to wipe it off, but accomplished nothing more than   getting a smear of black slime spread over his palm. Reaching into a pocket of his jacket, Dash produced a small cloth rag. Dash tossed the rag to the synth. The rag flew over Veta686’s shoulder. 

            The synth looked up. “Eighteen meters a second – can’t catch that. Flip man – what do you think I am, some sort of pro-ball player or something,” said the synth. A moment later: “Is this really sixty-four? Kelech twentieth? This is an episode of ‘What The Fuck Happened’ right?” Veta686 scanned the room. “Broadcast live no doubt,” said the synth, as his head rotated ninety rotated in ninety degrees to the left, then to the right. “Where’s Buster?” Veta686 gave a quick chirp. “I need a new fridge,” he said.

           “This ain’t no reality blogery,” said Dash. He walked around the bed and picked up his rag. He came back to the synth and held the rag out for him. “And yeah, it’s eighteen sixty-four alright,” Dash said.

            “No fridge!” With his pinky and forefinger, Veta686 snatched the rag from Dash’s hand with a flick of his wrist. “Thanks,” the synth said. The synth deftly pushed the rag over his mouth, attempting to clean himself. “What happened to my clothes?”

            “No idea,” said Dash.

            “This just keeps getting worse and worse,” said Veta686, sounding dour. “Had a new Gucci aluminium-rayon tweed-weave jacket, it was –” Veta686’s stopped suddenly. “And not my lucky hat,” the synth said. “Not my lucky hat,” he repeated, touching his head.   

            “That’s life,” said Dash. Then, as if thinking better of it, quickly followed that up with: “How about we go back to my place – I have tools, you can recoup there,” said Dash. “And we can talk.”

            “New plan – let’s go directly to a data bar,” said Veta686. “Half my brain is non-responsive but nothing more I’d like to do then tap a big flow right now – unwind and defrag a bit.”

            “Sure,” Dash smiled, with one half of his mouth. “D’bar it is… but let’s find one that serves booze too,” he said. 

            “Oh tasty flow off we go,” said Veta686, pointing to the doorway.  

III. Molt's Data'n'Tap

The air was damp. It was a foggy night. But it was always a foggy night here, by the edge of  Samsonvilla, by the rocky continental coast. The city sucked in the sea, by day, cycling it through its urban veins, like hungry roots. Sea came into the city, bringing power and clean water, then left the city, as vapours and fogs;  enriched; fortified with compounds, invisible machines and adulterants, working for the survival of transplanted fauna and man, upon this one and only human-owned planet, in the crowded solar system of Kohn.  

            “No shortage of options around here for human-synth d’bars,” Dash said, flipping through pages of advertisements, projected out of his ring-PC, onto the busy promenade. “We have the Witch,” Dash said. The ad hovering above his hand was minimalist and two-dimensional, with only the white word ‘Witch’ on a black background, with a selection of drink and data specials laid out below.

            “Noka toka,” said Veta686. “Memory of that place. Big pass. Least used to be game cultist local.” Veta686 emulated the sound of a brief whistle, followed by a quick explosion. “Action fifty-two freaks,” he said. “What else?”

            Dash turned to a new virtual page. This one was filled with a smiling micro-human with bright green – near fluorescent – skin, and a stove-pipe hat, standing on a wooden bar. A brier pipe hung from his mouth. “O’Flagerties! O’Flagerties!” said the advert. The micro-human danced a bar-top jig. “Most  authentic of all Irish data bars!”     

            Dash looked over to Veta686.

            “Pass,” said Veta686. “No way they have good flow.”

            “Hang on a second,” Dash said, reaching into his pocket, and pulling out his dice.

           Veta686’s three eyes watched as Dash blew on a die as a gambler would, and dropped it to the ground. The die showed an eight. Dash flipped forward eight pages of his //Very Good Times// magazine projection. “Let’s go to this Molt’s place,” Dash said.

            Fourteen possible questions were generated in Vet686’s mind. For a few milliseconds, he mulled one answer over the other; but he wanted to crack a flow so bad that when he just thought about that first fresh data tube, his fingers tingled, the questions faded away, and his secondary eyes fell out of focus. The voltages feeding the outer skin of his recuperating and self-repairing synthetic brain blinkered in and out with anticipatory cascades of stimulation. If he didn’t get a data surge soon… 

 

                                                                                  ##

 

           The two took a table unlike any other not found inside the four walls of  Molt’s Data’n’Tap: a  half-foot thick, rock and metal topped table, with rough-hewn sides and not a drop of paint spread on it. The unfinished iron table followed an industrial theme, in turn followed by the rest of Molt’s Data’n’Tap; the centerpiece of which was presumably Molt himself: a big, animatronic metal man the size of a small car, with a long beard of fine-linked chains, hanging from a face looking like it was pieced together from rubbish collected haphazardly from industrial waste.  Molt sat, watching the bar with an unmoving face, atop a slowly rotating dais, surrounded by a ring of a circular bar, loaded with a dizzying collection of bottles, data kegs, one-hit disposable pipes, pill dispensers, and other mood crafts. 

           The two sat and looked about. Both avoided looking at one another.

            Dash tried to erase the silence: “So… how does it feel to be back?”

            Veta686’s over-sized head turned to Dash. A field of green X’s over red flashed over his center eye. “Like being held back a month in school. Having your friends all taking off. Then a new batch of people with new shiny things showed up. That you don’t feel a part of,” the synthetic said, his voice flatter and less animated than before.

            Dash unbuttoned his trench, and loosened his blue-and-black cheap polyester zig-zag tie. Dash kept his eyes locked on his new synth slave. He tried to recognize and decipher patterns and pictures that would at times blink over the three eyes of the strange, heavily polished copper person before him. Some synthetics preferred color-changing emote-bands that typically ran across there chest or head, for interacting with humans; or Bankian auric fields; some had a moving face-features for analogs of human emotions. Some of the less organic-friendly synths made no effort to impart visual ques at all. Images seemed to appear in Veta686’s central eye by reflex – perhaps calculated, perhaps not. Dash watched his response to his next question: “Poetic. You some sort of word-crafter?” 

            A bluish-green tint came across all three of his eyes. “Musician-lyricist exactly,” said Veta686, turning to take in more of the bar.

            Dash opened his mouth to say something than changed his mind: “Really?”

            “Not sure if I am can classify myself as that anymore! Used to have enviable databases – plenty – mostly red blues and neograde mariachi funk. Sixty-four-bit jazz.”  

            “Red blues…” Dash nodded. “Know that of course – but that’s old stuff isn’t it?”

            “Everybody knows the W-Tibbs Band.” Veta686 turned to look at Dash again. “After saving the human race and all,” Veta686 said, with some disdain in voice. “But its still pretty big – just not around these parts – in pockets - many asteroids.”

            “Zeb, ya – really?” Dash said. “More for the Ar’dees though, wouldn’t you –”

            A black-and-white spiral came over Veta686’s central eye. It stopped Dash mid-sentence. “Look man-guy love the chat and all but you said you’d tell me the deal when we got to the d’bar about it all and my reawakening and such and all and here we are – really interested to hear the whole kabiblie-boblie about it – walking out of that depot it did not escape me my eye – my small left eye – that the sign said slave emporium,” – here a cartoon image of a monkey chained to a wall flashed in Veta686’s eye, “what please tell what is  up with all this – don’t make me tax my mind opening the file package they uploaded to me – just give me the information straight-piped,” Veta686 said, speaking about twice as fast as he had before.

            Dash was caught off-guard. He swallowed, and took a second before replying. “Well, yeah, your my, ah’em,” Dash felt his face warm up. “You’re my slave,” he said, sheepishly. “Apparently,” he added, lamely. “Temporally. Limitedly.”  

            “What?”

            “Only for a week – starting tomorrow,” Dash reassured.

            Veta686’s head shook a little left, and a lot right, quickly, violently. His voice doubled in volume: “Data!”   

           The table beeped. Molt’s logo – a waterfall of gold cascading out of a metal skull’s mouth – appeared above the iron-slab table, gaseous, as a whorl of iridescent dust. “Welcome to Molt’s Data’n’Tap,” said a monotone voice.

            Veta686’s head wobbled on his neck stem: “One Narcosis phantom fux light,” said Veta686. “Newest version.”

            “We don’t have that,” said the table.

            “Narco got nuked by the anti-federals,” Dash declared. “You should get some news, in your drink.”   

            Unperturbed, Veta686 tried another reliable favourite: “A Razor 11, dense?”

            “One Razor 11. Dense. And for you?”

            (Veta686’s eye lit up bright yellow at the confirmation of his order.)

            Dash gave a lop-sided smirk. “Guess I’ll have a rainbow twist, a double,” Dash said. “Easy on the Ritalin, easy on the ice.”

            A black and red tube and a bright-red cocktail appeared in the projection. “Coming right up.” The metal-skull projection vanished. 

            Dash’s cheeks felt a bit hot, and he couldn’t help but squirm in his seat – a few years and wars ago, he had been braver, he felt. He had been an instrument delivering death and life. As the situation determined. He had enough blood on his hands that it left long-lasting stains, but he’d never had to inform someone of their legal servitude before. Dash hadn’t anticipated a negative reaction. “Look, I’m a veteran – when you leave service, you get  a fed’ral prize tokens. Unless you’re discharged. I won some medals. So I got three tokens. Spent my last last on your reactivation. That token could have bought me some virt’estate upcore. Or some stocks. Or I could have bought a new face.” Dash looked smug. “An automatic wife maybe.”

            “So very many-options,” said Veta686. 

            “Instead I saved you. And we are going to go to Kanata City.”

            Veta686 sat unmoving, eyes unchanging.

            “Look,” Dash said, softening his voice. Ten days is no big deal. One week, you get your gov’ new-start funds, and you’re free to fuck off however you see fit.”

            White-and-red tartan showing in his center-eye, Veta686 zoomed in close to Dash’s brow, and watched sweat glands perspire, pooling their acrid unnoticeable humanness, in clump, along the late-twenties landscape of Dash’s baseline, unmodified human skin forehead. Veta686’s other two musician-calibrated eyes took in the bar: cataloguing the bar’s acoustic profile, and watching the repeat of the forty-beats-per-minute  oscillating waves of the bar’s droll and bass-heavy music, as it pulsed out, lived a brief life, then came crashing and dying against each echo-absorbing surface of every iron slab table in the bar. “Not sure if I would make a good slave for you. I like drugs – debauchery – loud music – and have a tendency to start small fires,” Veta686 said. 

            “I don’t necessarily have a problem with those – I just need help opening up a shop,” said Dash. “And help selling stuff to over-rich synths,” he added.

            “What kind of shop?”

            “A non-burning, watch kind of shop.”

            “Watch what?”

            “No – no, watches,” Dash said.

            “Surveillance,” confirmed Veta686. 

            “No… arm-clocks? You know,” said Dash, pointing at his wrist, “time-tellers. Pocket-clocks.”

            Veta686’s eye showed black question marks on a white background. “Googling – downloading – people buy these?”

             A tinge of red showed on Dash’s cheeks. Doubt challenged his confidence, for a moment. He grunted. “Thought the same thing. But apparently yeah – on some asteroids anyways,” he said, with a twist of sarcasm.

            Veta686’s black, six fingered hand came up from underneath the table, formed a fist, a rapped two knocks against the side of his head. “A strange enough day to make a year’s strange become no longer noteworthy,” Veta686, his voice taking a melodic cadence, “my fate an acid eating normal.” Then, tilting his head upwards, Veta686 said: “Drinks.”

            “Again with the poetics,” said Dash. Following Veta686’s glance, Dash looked up, and saw a hovering serving tray – suiting Molt’s motif, it had the appearance of a regular rock, besides the rows of micro-turbines. The tray held the drinks, correcting itself mid-flight as not to spill; the tray floated down to the table. “Where did the strange begin?”

            Veta686 answered – perhaps in answer of Dash’s question, perhaps not: “You want me to help you sell time-telling ornaments to the well-polished?”

            Dash stood up on his chair, gaining enough reach for his smaller micro-human arms to reach over, and grab the his drink: a tall, angled champagne glass filled with a blue, bubbling liquor, with floating red chunks of broken down pills. Not a second later, Veta686 reached out, bright exclamation marks passing through his eyes, and took a black-plastic vial. With one hand, he deftly held the vial between his opposite fingers, while the others on the hand pealed the wrapping off.

            “Not sure if you metal-folk cheers or not,” Dash said, sheepishly, holding the glass in the hesitation of a toast.  

            “To the grievous and dangerous situation that will happen in about eight minutes or so,” Veta686 said puncturing the top of the Razor 11 vial; a puff of grey gas escaped. The gas was just for show: the drug’s effects were short-near wireless. Generated and piped in live, from Razor Inc. Veta686 brought his head in slightly closer to the vial to better collect all the inebriating and amusing data burst  forth. After his synthetic brain – half functioning, and deficient in vital fluids – connected, Veta686’s mind was coddled, than roughly prodded, by a cascade of lurid Hi-Fi algorithms, skimmed from the great imaginations of humans, synthetics, constructs and other unknowns that flit about the matrix of unknowable space; a quanta amusement factory feeding directly into all of his senses. Veta686 whistled a tone.   

            Dash aborted his swig of beverage. “Uh, what?” The sugar and pineapple concoction spilled over his taste buds, leading the way for a the hint of alcohol. “Situation? I’m not big into violence now a’days that I’m retired – you are free to go if you really want, the gov’ will –”

            “That’s too bad – about the violence – violent behaviour could apply to this surprising and life-threatening situation that could be about to happening. Actually will arise. In a few minutes. Look at all the cats! Gobble gobble,” Veta686 said, his speech jarring with intoxication, his head pointed towards the wall, his eyes darting about, focusing on things that Dash could not see.

            “I’m beginning to realize why I don’t have any synthetic friends,” Dash said. He licked his lips. “Though this rainbow twist is delicious,” he said. “Good stuff…for a foggy night,” Dash said, more to his drink, then to the copper man across from him. 

            Veta686 stood up. Imperfectly. The iron slab table left two long scratches in his copper legs. “Sorry – trouble and the big cats,” Veta686 said, his three eyes continuing to look in different directions at once, “get the mouse! Get it. Get it. The mouse. No – no – not there,” Veta686 laughed (a repeating two second sound of recorded, static-laden human laughter). “Quasar!” The copper synth’s head dropped; and again he laughed. “Cheese,” his voice drawled, in a particularly un-synthetic way. 

            Dash took in the bar, and his drink, while his copper associate bugged out. It wasn’t a very busy night, here at Molt’s – or maybe it just wasn’t a very busy bar at any time; only a quarter of the tables were taken. Closest to Dash, sitting on two chairs together, was a shirtless, massively muscled man; you could see along his ample biceps the green residue of flesh-glue still, indicating a fresh release from the hospital, or dirty skin-job shack, where had made his form-changing purchase. Further down the same table over was a pair of synths, with matching brown plastic spiral torsos. They both wore chain link cloaks and shirts, and had pointed, white cloth hats, covering the top halves of their head. “Speciesists here?” Dash shook his head.  

            Vapours and smoke rose from adulterants laid out upon the two tables he spied upon; the smoke as transient Dash’s suppositions on what those three patrons were thinking, what they were doing, and how they came to be at there at the same time and place as himself.

            Dash was brought out of his reverie by Veta686’s hand tugging on his sleeve. “Back with me? Thought I was going to have to get a refund,” Dash said, showing half a smile.  

            Veta686 stared at Dash, his eyes showing just gray. A little trail of black run down the corner of his little mouth. A beep emitted from his head. “What did I do just now?”

            Dash’s mouth opened – he’s was stunned. “What, you don’t remember?”

            “Did not realize what a few years powered down would do for my tolerance – all I remember are far beyond average cats with,” Veta686 stopped for a brief pause, “trouble is coming soon we should leave to another d’bar.”

            Dash loosened his already loose tie further. “Thought the trouble was your –” he began to say drink, but changed that to: “data. The cats – let’s forget about the cats,” Dash waved away the subject with his hand. “What trouble?”

            Veta686’s head turned – almost completely around – stopping in the direction of Molt’s main entrance. The synth’s voice was almost drowned out by the bar’s music and combined conversation. “Last night for me – years ago for you – was a mammoth kablob of personal fiasco – from the few bytes I have so far conjoined, there is an indication that I had variety of misunderstanding with my bassist.”

            Dash waited for more detail that didn’t come. “And?” Dash shook his head. “Wait, what kind of misunderstanding?”

            With his head still facing the opposite direction of Dash, Veta686 continued, “The kind that  involves some sort of destruction of a collection of bass guitars – which further involves a barrel of hydroiodic acid – and some sort of limousine’s destruction – which further also involved this acid.” Veta686 rotated a hand around, in a motion Dash could not decipher. “Not sure where the acid came from but the particulars are not nearly as serious as the more pressing serious thing which is that we should be leaving expertly right now – about as fast as we can. How about we go?”

            “You know what? You are about as hard to follow as those classic telenovelas they used to show me in school – the kind were you’d need a chart just to figure out who snoggered who, an a-i to work out the plot details, and a beer for the headache after.”  Dash reached into his pocket. He withdrew one of his two dice. He began to rattle it around in his hands, while he worked out the numbers. An eight through five would mean he’d leave with Veta686, he decided. A four, and he’d part company immediately with this chaos-bringing synth. A three and…

            “Funny man-guy! We should go. Floats found me when I googled up on arm-clocks – so in a way that I have been able to rationally engineer to ease my future conscious – you are to blame for whatever happens with my angry bassist,” Veta686 said, his head turning back around to face Dash.

            “Excuse me, while I ignore you a moment.” Dash rolled the die on the table.

            The die bounced of the corner of Veta686’s broken vial of Razor 11. The angle it struck the vial resulted in a spin: as Veta686 and Dash watched on, the die spun. And continued to spin. Until it eventually fell, rolled over twice, and showed a one.

            Veta686 looked up at Dash, with  question marks zipping across his eyes.

            “Two means I call fed’s situational insurance, make a claim, and let them work out my compensation – which will hopefully be enough to get my store started!” Dash double-tapped his PC ring and a display hovered above it. He began navigating menus with his left hand. “Which is all I’ve been trying to do,” he said, half under his breath.

            “I think we should order another round,” said Veta686, and communicated with the bar, ordering it, on Dash’s tab.

             ”What – on second thought,” Dash looked up from his PC-ring and grimaced. “Do you serve Ardee Kamosta Vee beverages here?” Dash asked the table. The table said it did. “Great – get a me a vespy’ka, a shot of mookin’cee, and a club soda.” The table said it was coming up. Dash blurted: “In three separate glasses!” 

            “I’ll have a Razor nine light, Molt,” said Veta686.

            Dash went back to his display. Veta686 could see that he was navigating the directory services of the Federal Situational Insurance company.

            Veta686 took one of the rolled dicee off the table. He studied it a moment, his iris narrowing upon it. Then he brought the die underneath the table. With his other hand, he dabbed his chin – black-stained, from the unknowable fluid dripping down from his small mouth – with one long finger. “What, by the way, was option two of your dice?” Veta686 asked.

            Dash watched to see if any of the self-propelled serving trays were heading in his direction. “Option two? That was…” his voice trailed off.

            “Please tell me they are intelligent dice – controlled by someone smart and divine that only has our mutual self interest as his or her interest, and they aren’t instead regular unintelligent dice that you have possibly just condemned me with – that would be capricious. And random! I like it.”  

            “Ya, the great Bao-Tsing controls them. No, Zeus actually. Just for us. The extra-magic dice of infinite fate, I call’em,” said Dash, sarcasm heavy in his voice. “I didn’t just steal them from an officer’s casino during the Virt’ War in ‘68…oh –” Dash said. “Option two. That was going to be try to figure out more information and take a re-roll from there.”

            “May I present to you option one and a half!” Veta686 brought one of his long, gangly copper arms downwards, swinging towards the table, but slowing to stop right before impact. His arm swung back up. “The most pressing and best of options!” The die was back on the table: now with scratches,   and an uneven, slight slope, on the showing face. Instead of the original digit, there was now, crudely written in black, a messy ‘1.5’.

            Dash looked up slowly, from his PC-ring’s display. His eyes, once settling upon the die, widened, as if somehow spontaneously doubling in size. His face turned a shade of purple. (“Never seen anyone turn that color before,” Veta686 quipped.) “Do you – do you – !” Dash stammered. He bolted upward on to his feet and lunged at Veta686, half-way grasping his copper throat with one hand. His face was a picture of fury. Teeth showing. Spittle ejecting from his mouth as he try to express his anger with words. “What number was that!” Dash roared. He shook Veta686’s copper throat – to almost no effect beyond his arm shaking violently.

            “Was four. Now it’s one point five!” Veta686 gently tried to unclasp Dash’s hand from his throat. “Which means: do what Veta wants to do! Which is currently: let’s get the fuck out of here!”

            “You have no idea!” Dash shouted. He loosened his grip on on Veta686’s neck. His voice was vehement and venomous. Before where Dash was cool and collected, calm, he was now seething; convulsing in small waves, propelled by his rage. “Those dice saved my life! Half my squad’s life! Couldn’t trust our own thoughts – ‘cuz they were in our minds… so…” Dash’s voice trailed off as his anger seemed to change to sorrow; his face relaxed; he fell back into his seat. Sweat ran down his brow. He looked away from Veta686. But then the anger came back. “You copper crack-head!”

            “Hey our fantastic beverages,” Veta686 said, grabbing hold of the serving tray, as it floated down to the table. “Take a break buddy-man. Could use your help Dash. In a few seconds.”

            Dash looked up, hearing his name for the first time, from his synthetic companion.

            “You really shouldn’t have done that,” said Dash.

            “I hear that all the time.” Veta686 raised his black and purple vial, in offer of a toast. “To dice and wars,” he said, images of mushroom clouds running across his three eyes.

            Dash arranged his drinks: mixing two, moving them all to the far side of the table. “I’ll join you for the next round,” he said.

            Veta686 broke the vial. “Razor your flow has improved since I’ve been away,” he said, letting the broken vessel fall to the table. “Not the cats again,” he said. His eyes again faded and he appeared that he all but shutdown.

            For a synthetic, a subjective second can be a long time. As capable as as his or her diamond-core quantum computer brain can slice each moment into smaller yet smaller segments, time can be stretched; bringing a second of bliss, into a day’s stretch of wonder.

            Veta686 didn’t want to awaken from his decadent somnolent plunge: especially when his eyes came back online, and made out the chrome outline of his bassist, standing before him.

            “Yeah, I think he’s terrible also,” said Dash, halfheartedly, smoking beverage in each hand, sweat – or perhaps moisture from the bubbling drinks – had peppered the top of his shirt, his neck, and face.  His jaw was set firmly, as he sat back, appearing ready to react, but otherwise, not intercede between the angry, wide, skinny, metal-man bassist:  

            “Last time I saw him he had a drunken chimp-mix junk sound man riding his shoulders!” Floater stood hunched over the table, face inches away from Veta686’s. Dash had almost a hard time looking at them both, they glinted and glittered so much: Veta686 with his copper sheen, Floater, the ex-bassist, with as much polish: but on chrome. He was almost as wide as the table, but thin as a sheet. A purple velvet toga hung loosely around his neck, strangely self-animate; it seem to wither with each note of bass. The wideness of his body required unusual legs: instead of the regular human-derived two leg design, Floater had four; bent and short, like the legs of long, old-Earth style couch. Big linked, wooden chains hung from his neck, rebounding slowly against his chrome skin which caught the bar’s low-light, reflected it in amplified patterns, in all spots but where his chrome skin was covered by blue wax seals the size of Dash’s micro-human fist. Each seal was marked with pictogram annotations that were not from any language of the twelve races of Kohn Dash could recall. “Three eyes – three brains – triple the dose he would say to me –” said Floater to Dash, with no anger directed towards him. “Bosh! All bosh upon bosh upon bosh. If he could play-or-sing as well-as-he could lie or boondoggle square-it all our tracks would  be hexa-platinum by now!”

            “What a terrific night! You should have seen the –”, Veta686 began telling Dash, then, slowly – very slowly – began turning his head to face Floater. “You should have seen what a terrible nightmare I had about losing a sixth of my life in a containment cube only to be awoken into slavery by a little bald headed man asking me to help set up a watch shop which I don’t even know what they were exactly but – an ancient time-piece one-stop-all and then going to a bar for a splash of tap flow and then in walks my angry bassist angry about something angry and then he doesn’t even say hi! As,” Veta686 said, taking a brief pause to load up the intonations for his upcoming speech: “as he has my very own quarter-of-my-old net-worth genuine Del’Monte 3800 terahertz co-processing hat on! Made mostly of ninety-nine-nine-nine-nine percent pure copper!” said Veta686, his voice heavy with modulated accusation. Like aiming a pistol, Veta686 extended his forefinger up towards the head of Floater: on which a wide, thin-brimmed sombrero hat balanced unsteadily, made of copper, roughly the same shine and shade of Veta686.    

            “Is it now! This hat!” Floater said, two protruding green glass eyes looking up. “This hat right here on my head!” Floater tip-tapped all four of his feet against the floor. “Bahhh!” 

             The nearby bar-patrons turned to watch the excitement. Dash exhaled a big breath. He studied the joints of the big animatronic Molt, who rested on his pedestal behind the bar, trying to discern whether it was part of the bar’s security, or merely decoration.

            “This hat is //my// hat,” said Floater, speaking far slower than his usual, synth-quick pace. “After you melted half the limo with that gibbling tank of acid you managed to steal from that freak-artist – and wrecked most of the band’s guitars – and then jumped off of the roof of the Kitty Knox – you left behind this hat – a small compensation I’ve awarded myself,” said Floater, his pliable thin chrome body curling over. Red dots brightened in the center of his emerald-like eyes.

            “It was an experiment in song composition,” Veta686 said drolly, coming out from the table, and standing close to Floater – encouraging the chrome synth to take a step back. “Needed new ideas. For the band! And you left me – after taking my hat,” said Veta686.

            “An entire virt’war broke out – and this hat of mine – I’ve grown attached,” said Floater, popping his head up, causing the copper hat to clank against his skull.   

            Veta686 bent his knees a bit, lowering his center of gravity. “But you are not really attached to as much as myself.”

            Floater saw what was coming and folded his body to the right, trying to dodge Veta686’s up-swinging arm. The dodge saved him from an uppercut to the head. But instead of his face being smacked, Veta686’s black first connected with hat’s rim – enough to jar it lose from Floater’s head as he fell back. The heavy copper sombrero dropped. Veta686 leaned down and caught it before it hit the floor.

            Floater retreated, his four small feet taking quick steps back. His frame hit the table behind him, where upon the three rough-looking patronages sat.

            “Hey, watch it,” said the muscle-heavy man, looking up from this drink, without much concern showing on his face.

            Floater twisted his body – upon seeing the conical hats a red spark came to his eyes. “The the –“  he began, “little man and the synth are under Stran command! Completely hackored!”

            “Whaz,” said one of the sitting synths, from under his heavy, fine-linked chain-mail coat. “Dirty Stran tails! Dirty-up’n our nets!”

            “Can’t not be,” said the other sitting synth, readjusting his tall, white conical hat.

            “Let’s fuck’em and bust’em,” said the massive man, seating at the table close by. In a movement that didn’t require much bending of his neck, he gave both of his probably new pectorals a quick kiss. 

            “Zab Veta,” said Dash, his body tense, pushing against the table to stand up on his seat, “can’t we just all relax.” Not moving his eyes from the scene, Dash spilled one of his drinks into the other. A bubbly hiss came from the mixture.

            Upon Veta686’s largest eye the image of his copper hat appeared – but not an animation, instead, a glinting, glassy reflection. Veta686 raised his arm, and let the wide sombrero rest upon his straightened fingers. Then an electric whir came. The whir increasing in intensity. The louder the whir became, the more the hat began to move: at first it jangled upon Veta686’s fingers unevenly; but then it picked up speed, rotating following its own momentum. Soon Dash couldn’t make out how fast it was spinning it was spinning so quickly.

            As soon as the hat began to move Floater quickly tapped towards the bar’s exit, side-stepping. “You obsolete toaster fornicator!” he shouted, making his way out of the bar, facing them all. 

            The thick, moving muscle mass of a man took a boxer’s pose. Through small lips he said out of the side of his mouth: “You two take the halfie.”

            “Dirty-dirty Stran. Over-propagating our nets,” chided the chain-mail clad synth.

            “I’m no lover of the Stran,” said Dash, now standing on his seat. He dug a hand into the pocket of his trench. The two conical hat synths drew blades that looked like slivers of glass. “But I hate speciests even more!” Dash grabbed his hissing beverage through the pocket of his trench. With an imperfect grip on the base of the glass, Dash swung his torso, lobbing the glass. With a well-timed swipe, the synth on the left knocked the glass out of the air – sending the steaming contents in a spray that hit the other synth full on the face.

            The struck synth screamed a synthetic scream: a high pitched buzz that everyone in the bar felt as much as heard. All heads turned in the bar.

            The muscle-man charged towards Veta686 like a rhinoceros. Cutting a copper arc through the air, Veta686 brought down his left arm – the end of which was his rapidly spinning wide-brimmed hat. The hat swung down and caught the shoulder blade of the charging, momentum-heavy man. There was a scream in the bar as Dash saw a spray of red spray from the shoulder wound. The hat dug into flesh. The man hit and Veta686 got knocked of his feet, falling back onto rock slab table of the bar. Before the bodies crashed onto the table Dash twisted and grabbed the serving tray from the table, holding it over his head, the best weapon he could find. A discordant clang rang out as Veta686 hit the table with enough force to crack it. Blood pooled on the table. The muscle-man groaned.

            The remaining synth shifted his eyes between his heavily bleeding friend struggling off of the table, and his other friend, who was now on his knees, wiping off sticky yellow fluid from his face. Each drop of the fluid that hit the floor resulted in an immediate puff of smoke. A sharp smell of burning plastic suffused the air. The near-clear long dagger lowered a bit, as the synth vacillated, eyeing the wounded around him.

           Dash lowered the serving tray from his head, in acquiescence .

            Hooking the end of the table his feet, Veta686 slid over the table. His feet found the floor and with strain – his arms pushing against the table – Veta686 rose from the table, pushing the muscle man off. From shoulder to the breast there was a long slice of ripped flesh, which the man stared at, eyes wide in shock.

            “Bioborg needs more brain craft,” said Veta686, grabbing his hat. “And less muscle graft.”

            “Let’s get the hell out of here,” said Dash, breathing heavily.

            “Agreed,” said Veta686, red splatter over his eyes, putting his hat back on his head, dropping it on with a slight flick his wrist, causing the hat to rattle atop his head, spinning slowly, looking like such a natural extension of his body, that from then on, Dash could never imagine Veta686 without.

IV. Agreed

After wiping the blood smears off best they could, the two caught a cab, and headed back to Dash’s apartment.

            On the ride home they didn’t say much. Veta686 questioned Dash about the qualities of the interesting Ardee Kamosta Vee beverage he fixed up, while Dash wondered aloud if they were going to get any tickets from the zone’s government over their little disturbance, and for how much the tickets would be for, if they did.

            Back at the apartment, barely over the threshold of the door, Veta686 was drawn to Dash’s workbench: adorned with tools and the parts of clocks, amongst a selection of metal and leather straps.   “So these are the clock-bits,” said Veta686, tapping each archaic tool with a long finger: a screwdriver, a file, a pair of pliers.  

            Dash sunk into his micro-human sized reclining chair. He took off his blood stained trench, and threw it into the corner of the small apartment. “So, you going to help me with the store? I’ll give you a quarter of any sales,” Dash said, closing his eyes, head nestled into the recliner.

            “Yes,” said Veta686, inspecting a drawer of tiny gears. “What-you going to call the store?”

            “You know,” said Dash, “haven’t thought of that yet, somehow.”

            “How about dice?”

            Dash’s eyebrows raised above his closed eyes. “Nice ring to it, but doesn’t make much sense for an arm-clock shop, does it?”

            “Less sense made the better,” said Veta686, turning around gingerly, wary of cracking the fake-wood floor with his weight. “This is high fashion,” he finished.

             ”You know what,” Dash said, his eyes opening. “I’ll give you that. Your point. I think you are dead on.” He pursued his lips, took a moment, then continued: “Okay. How about this?” Dash deepened his voice. ”//Slice// and dice, clock shop,” he proclaimed.  

            “Slice’s and Dice’s,” said Veta686. His eyes lit up, bright yellow. “Like it and done,” said Veta686. “Got a spare two-forty socket around here? I need to recharge for this.”

             Looking like it was all the energy Dash had left to muster, he pointed vaguely to the kitchen.

 Novellas

 


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