Howdy folks, this one took me awhile, and it's very non-standard, being an actual story and not a 'biography'. However I hope this story tells you a little more about Chadwick B. Dunlop, the broest of bros.
Note: that while the following story is completely SFW, there are some exceptionally minor suggestive themes. But they are present non-the-less, so fair warning. If it's deemed inappropriate I'll happily omit details or take this post down. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it. Feedback always welcome!
The smell of asphalt combined with the cool draft from the bottom of the door. The lighting was a depressed sparkling yellow. A bulb popped audibly with each surge of the amplifiers from the front, the wires straining to match the venue's requirement. A trail of wet, squeaky, bootprints marked out the common ground between the exterior and interior world. Various posters lined the walls, haphazardly placed, once detailing past concerts and performances, but now the long faded scraps only told a story of decay.
Dunsmuir grabbed the shaky handle of the maintenance door, and thumbed out a key from his belt, pressing it into the gap. With a heave and a turned handle he popped the lock open, stumbling into the alleyway and down the stairs. The white noise of the city flooding his music deafened ears.
The smell was immense, horrid, lingering in the air. A long stale haze of garbage, discarded booze, and dead rodents. He wrinkled his nose and propped the door, stepping to the side. The red glare of passing taillights lit up the rain washed walls with reflections of luminescent blood. He glided to the edge of the alley, the soles of his boots shuddering otherwise still puddles of a storm that had just passed.
He turned his shaded view away onto the busy streets, fingers fumbling a cigarette into his mouth. The streetlight was harsh in the cold. Maybe it was the taste of his cigarette, maybe it was the passing cars and vehicles, maybe it was the ringing in his right ear as his VAE implant tried to reboot. The gentle mechanical clicks whirring in his neck, over and over and over. It never failed for this long. It had him on edge, the world without diagnostics and instructions from the Advisor system was a very very different place. His numb fingers pulled back on the flint of the lighter.
It was mostly trivial things, excluding his implant, that were bothering him. He'd been four hours without instruction now, a damned long time to be in the dark from the Advisor, but he was managing, if barely.
Odinet Limited ran the Advisor program, operating barely in the realm of legality. The merging of sapient thought and artificial intelligence wasn't illegal. No, anyone could order a Man-Machine interface only. It was the shared space that was illegal. Organics only ever became synthetic, by choice or by punishment. Synthetics never ever became organic. But Odinet was the exception in the field of “Shared reality”, you got input, occasional sudden muscle memory that the Advisor gave you. It was like having a Big Brother that worked for you, not against you. Sure he got advertising that was targeted at his subconscious desires, but that was just one of the trade offs. He needed the system for his job anyway. It's how dispatch kept tabs on all their officers.
The sunglass wearing corporate officer watched the slow decline of the after-show steadily streaming out the building's front, disgruntled taxi cab drivers yelling from car to car. Something about new engine regulators and red tape. He couldn't understand the gutter speak, grunts and bellows that flew between the cabs of the lower and upper traffic. Red taillights combined with the gentle blue and thrum of hovering cars above. Rubber, asphalt, garbage, cigarettes, and ozone. That was the city as he knew it, and it never seemed to change. The night was old, it had begun old and decrepit like the building he leaned against. A reflection of the city. But tonight it was different, something was poisoning the area, his eyes scanning, searching to answer his uneasiness.
Dunsmuir took a drag from his cigarette, detached from the controlled chaos but also a part. A way for the city to see itself for a moment in reflection. New San Jose, or Aguille-4, as it was legally called, didn't seem to ever change, yet if you blinked for a second it'd be a different place. Someone somewhere sold the city to someone somewhere back somewhere in a different system. Why anyone would want a place where a breath mask is required every summer season was beyond him. He wasn't one to question these things. Space politic was a different language. It was beyond most people. For people with the money to filter their air everyday, who could pay for a rice cooker that wasn't made out of spare parts.
He tapped the edge of his cigarette and took another drag, the synaptizine infused nicotine rolling through his system, offering a lick of comfort via a cheap high. He felt it crackle through his mind, vision sharpened. It was an enhancement drug, made you focus down on things. All the kids back in school took it for the pre-tests, people applying for out of system positions. Pretty much anyone doing anything complicated. It was a brain stimulant, kept you on the edge of the edge if only for a minute or two. Legally a class 6 stimulant, but even the big corps like Donk Co. had subsidiaries that distribute infused products.
He felt the kick tingle down his spine, head state sharpened for a moment. He pushed his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose reseating them. Eyes narrowed as they scanned the street again through the filtered lamplight, the haze of the rain and smog. There it was, that's what was putting the whole night off. The same rubber had been sitting across the street since the start of the gig. Long, sleek, black. Nice tires too. A little too nice.
Dunsmuir blinked, taking a drag, mostly ash this time, eyes narrowing. It was the hubcap, plasteel, not regular steel. Sure, the rubber was a bit of a beater, he couldn't discount that, but no one buys plasteel caps. That's not even an option in New San Jose. Too expensive to import from the fringe manufacturers. You can tell by the way light plays off of the metal. It absorbs it a bit, something about the way plasma works in the alloy. Science he couldn't grasp.
The VAE clicked in his neck, he felt his skin roll as it moved from its dormant position, snaking within its synthetic tube up around his spinal column and seating with his brain. He took another pull from the cigarette, the burnt end getting dangerously close to his fingertips, to distract himself from the internal intruder. With a comforting wet click he felt the second mind saddle in with his own.
Advisor chirped softly, biometrics rastering into his periphery. He could feel the synthetic plumbing his mind for the past four hours, rereading, re-calibrating with the database. Like someone was flipping through his mind as a filing cabinet, making six calls to the lower division, covering some bases, connecting the dots, faxing some reports, all ending with an award winning customer service smile.
By the time the consensual parasite gave a happy blip of activity, the motors rolling up through his neck just below the surface, the vehicle he was so fascinated by had gone. In the haze of synaptic smoke he turned his thoughts inward, eyes unfocused lenses. Satisfied that the disturbance to his nightlife was gone, Dunsmuir turned heel. Work was to be done if he wanted to make up for those lost hours. Advisor gently prodded his thoughts with something about consumer loyalty, and fulfilling departmental goals.
It was all drowned out by the rubber sitting at the end of the alley. Same plasteel caps. There was a man, 6 button coat, shoes polished, barely wet. He's just gotten out of the car. He's too casual. Dunsmuir's eyes flicked up to his face. Award winning customer service smile. This isn't right. The LeMat Type-22 grew heavier on his hip with each passing moment, corporate security badge burning in his wallet. Wrong territory. This wasn't his precinct.
“Charleston B. Dunsmuir!” They knew his full name. That was never good. “You forgot to de-activate your tracker!”
That's what happens when your Advisor fails to reset for four hours. He ran over his options. They were armed, bump in the coat, left side, probably some sort of sown in pocket. So was he, LeMat Type-22, buckshot on the second trigger. No way he'd hit at this range. Running would be difficult, they'd send more than one vehicle. His department wouldn't help. A needle pressed into the base of his neck. The word stimulants flickered across his vision, a pressure forming at the back of his eyes.
Advisor picked his drug infused brain in the frozen moment, planting the name of the employer of the man down the alley. Kapila Functionary, roaming, no active block usage, private security, unknown permit class. He had never heard of them, this was supposed to be Paragon turf, corporate security, Class 2 operating permit, overlap permitted, stationary 36 blocks controlled. This was supposed to be an off night. He was deactivated. They weren't corporate. Private. Advisor escalated it's subconscious warnings accordingly. Anything they wanted couldn't be good.
“You're on the wrong side of things today Dunsmuir.” The man stopped leaning against the hood of the car and began to walk towards him, hands in his pockets.
“Sorry kid, but I outrank your badge.” The man spoke again, he was a bit, too, to the point, his voice was off, measured practiced Tradeband. The spacing of his words were all wrong. Dunsmuir's heart pounded in his head, he was frozen. This is how people died in his line of work. Wrong place, wrong department, wrong badge. You didn't fuck with the privates, and even the corporates like him weren't a laughing matter. Advisor reminded him that he could still run away. His feet remained planted.
“I'm sure we can talk about this.” Dunsmuir spoke through grit teeth, whatever Advisor had dosed him with was tensing his neck and jaw up. His limbs felt like they were on fire. He needed to move lest he burn alive. His jacket was too hot, LeMat too heavy, boots too planted. He needed to run. Run or shoot. It was a struggle to think. A bead of hot sweat gently traveled down his forehead like a rain drop, his glasses foggy.
“Now I'm really sorry Charles, you seem like a nice kid!” The voice was still far off, 30 meters and closing.
“You don't have to be sorry!” He called back, his arm twitched, a jitter pushed through his chest. The cough never came. Run.
“But I'm here to help you, really I am.” 20 meters.
“Bullshit.” His voice was a strangled squeak. Shoot.
“Your VAE is off, you're being told the wrong things.” Run.
Advisor remained silent, he felt his brain being rifled again, robotic limbs trawling through his neck in waves.
The man was at 10 meters now, hands still in his pockets, a smug look on his face.
“Let's make this easy.”
Dunsmuir recalled a muscle memory that wasn't his own, eyes deadlocked. His fingers wrapped around the heavy steel butt. The double action revolver aimed with foreign hands. Second trigger. Buckshot, ten meters.
There was a flash-less burst of smoke, fire spitting forward. The Kapila coat billowed. That smile didn't waver. A pellet tore through the mans neck, synthetic flesh peeling off and shuddering with violent kinetic force. The machine's smile faded.
“Sorry Mr. Dunsmuir.”
Pocket, left side, device, three tubes, blue lining. Run. He didn't have time to pull the trigger again. The device clicked. Advisor screamed. Dunsmuir whimpered. His biometrics scrambled, his entire body burning from the stimulants. He stumbled back losing the support of the alleyway, his feet not listening to him, mind falling into a tide pool of noise. Advisor let out a hollow rattle. A sharp pain in the neck moving up into the back of his head. He was on the ground, how did he get on the ground? Vomit forced its way through his throat, limbs spasming, his conscious mind struggling to fight back control of his body. There was a pressure behind his ears and eyes, he felt like his head would explode.
The machine stepped closer. He heard the button click against fake fingers. The noise was too much. The noise hurt. The pain. Shoot. Noise. Run. Think. Noise. Pain. Live. Pain.
Dunsmuir passed out, twitching on the ground.
With a spark, his conscious mind was dredged back into function, bones shaking with the thrum of the pounding music. The world danced back into view through a heavy sludge of unconsciousness. Lights throbbed overhead as various bodies swayed and gyrated about him. Dunsmuir forced his way through the crowd, eyes open, wide awake, moving between sweat soaked forms, his hand outstretched in front of him, parting the crowd. It was dark, he could barely see between the flashes of light from above. His headset crackled to life, the words simple:
“Be careful, subject last seen closest to you officer Dunsmuir.” He nodded to no-one, his sunglasses glinting under teal strobes. The beat of the song seemed to slow down, each strike against the synthetic drum mirroring his steps. He got to the edge of the crowd, the moving forms of dancers and party goers fading into a blurred mess of lost visual noise. A ringing passed through his ears. He stepped off the dance floor, lace up shoes clacking against the rim.
The music dulled out entirely. The lights stopped, sounds a slow out of pitch drone. He froze. The artificial overhead holding the room in an incandescent haze. Industrial lights flashed into existence, causing him to wince even through his sunglasses, the poorly rendered security display blasted away in the glow, his body limned against the edge of the floor. A spotlight on his departure from a drugged nirvana.
He turned slowly, the crowd never reforming from his periphery. A faceless collection of bodies staring back at to him as he stood under the spotlight. Panic laced his heart.
A swivel door slammed open, his headset crackled back to life as he blinked, the music resuming, the light gone completely, spots left in his vision. The floor had already forgotten him. His passport into the action was handed to him with the bark of one word in heavy Tradeband.
It was a hit, in the classic sense, at least that's what he remembered the briefing as. Despite having just got here, he couldn't remember why exactly he was here, or how he got onto the floor in the first place. However, he knew he was here to shoot someone. They were always told to try non lethal rounds, or smaller calibers first. But everyone knows a .22 is just as lethal as a .45 at 10 meters. It still tears through a perp as he tore through the revolving doors, still spinning on their hinges as he burst into the side room, feet flying over tiles.
This wasn't right.
Instead of pole-dancers and more incandescent decadence he was in an upperclass kitchen, the lull and slow drone of the music faded like waves behind him. He couldn't stop running. This had all happened before. Something in his head was screaming for him to stop, but he couldn't prevent his legs from repeating their motions. Shoes hit tile, he hit another door, rushing past faceless kitchen staff. Panic set in as his world entered automation, his headset speaking a foreign language. It was Tradeband, he knew Tradeband, why couldn't he understand?
The door at the end of the kitchen opened as he crashed into it shoulder first, his revolver drawn. He fell out into the alley from before, the faded posters telling a story of decay. He looked back to the door, his body responding with drunken speeds, vision flickering on an unsteady update rate. There was no kitchen, just a slippery doorframe and a sparking lightbulb. Dread filled his body and his mind, a tingle rolling through him as the sense of free-fall forced its way up through his feet as if the ground were poisoned. Sweat dripped down his forehead. He turned towards the end of the alley where the rubber should be. Heart in his throat he saw a man.
His target was there running, dress shirt billowing. Advisor was silent. He lowered the revolver through the puttied air. Wincing he pulled the trigger, hoping to end the nightmare of this twisted reality. It didn't kick, the crack rippled over him, the air in front of him shattering into glass. A crescendo of the world shattering about him as he shot apart the visual facade.
Orders are orders. With a strange sense of ease he reached and pressed two fingers against his headset, shaded eyes staring into the crack spreading over the air in front of him.
“Target out of reach, reques-”
He paused, his fingers trembling, mind surfacing, scrambling and clambering back from the tide of the dream and back into control. He had to escape, he couldn't accept this as a proper reality.
The air shattered again, the break in reality consuming his vision. He turned to look away towards the sounds of the street behind him only to meet the same darkness as the ripple he had shot open. Silence. He reached for his headset again but found nothing. Rolling his hand over his neck he found no reassuring lump that would usually be Advisor idling. Alone.
He stepped forward, the sense of free-fall gone, coolness wrapping over him. A draft seeming to come from every direction. It cut into the bone, the darkness having replaced the alleyway, as if he had never been there. His skin shivering as he took another step forward. It was so cold. He struggled another step forward, his fingertips losing feeling, needles and jabs rolling through his palm from the hilt of the revolver. He tried to raise another step, but stumbled instead, finding the pain of freezing too intense.
Dunsmuir fell forward, sunscanners smashing against the dance floor, his eyes struggling up to the view of moving feet and platform heels. A random hand grabbed at him, pulling him off balance from behind. He was hoisted to his feet, bewildered, dreadlocks staring at him.
“Hey man you doing okay? Took a bit of a tumble there yeah, haha shit bro.” Charleston stared at the man, teal strobes flashing over the other's face. He would answer, but his walkie-talkie spoke again, his gaze bewildered.
“Be careful, subject last seen closest to your location Dunsmuir.”
He mumbled something incoherent in thanks and pushed the other man to the side. He'd do it right this time. Following recorded footsteps to the edge of the floor, he reached into his shoulder holster and drew his revolver. He stepped off the dance floor tentatively this time, kicking the edge of it with his foot. Finding no reaction he stepped off proper. On queue the swivel door slammed open, and the blur of his target went running.
He ran after, pushing the door open, confidence surging as he pushed through the doors. It crumbled around him as he stumbled out the doors and back into the alley. He was towards the end of it, facing the street. He turned his head and saw the lowered revolver, his own finger on the trigger. He glanced to his side, shoulder holster empty. Breaking into a run down the alley to escape, he heard the crack, no glass shattering the air. Instead his glasses shattered out in front of his vision as a flush of warmth pushed through his head, sunscanners smashing into a thousand pieces in slow motion as he fell, held alive in stasis. The bullet hole leaking an incandescent red, awash with streetlights into the air, like smoke trapped in water. The force of the shot and his bad angle turned him as he fell, a slow motion spin into the nights' alley on repeat. A broken VHS of self murder. His shades collapsed over him with the force of a shattering plate, eyes staring unfiltered back at his self assailant. Through the glass he saw himself, and beyond the glasses, he saw the man-machine in the Kapila coat. Dunsmuir hit the ground, bullet hole boring through his mind as he slipped into a sea of half-consciousness, fighting for life in his fake reality. His mouth lay sprawled open blood pooling out of it, the moment of the drop trapped in his skin.
“Sorry Mr. Dunsmuir.”
He lay there trapped in a rolling stillness, left to decay. Voices echoed in the shallow tide. He felt his mechanical companion once more. VAE crawled through his mind, cauterizing parts of his personality. He could feel his very being slipping, moments of his past flickered before fading away entirely with sepia tints. Snippets of information planted about his head like gifts. It wasn't painful, it was peaceful. Almost, lovely. He forgot his name as he lay there, vision shuttering. The dream shattered, the nightmare rattling to a close with a whimper.
He blinked, auto-responding to blinding light. Surgical tools rattled. Deft hands made deep cuts that couldn't be felt. He sunk back into his head again, this time the dreamscape empty. No dance floor, no previous operation. Lost in the depths of an empty content-ness, the very semblance of his identity filed away somewhere to be forgotten. No memories to re-live and lose again. Numbed, the man that was once Charleston Dunsmuir smiled, the last of his personality shuffled away as he dropped brain-dead on the operating table. The next time he woke up, it would be with a different name.
“So I mean, that's what I've been thinkin' man, like, bro just THINK about it for a hot minute, aight like bro you just ain't THINKIN' hard enough, shit man just, like focus real hard, yeeeah real hard.” Chadwick leaned into his shoddily constructed chair. It was made out of some spare parts he had found in the back of the cargo warehouse. Warehouse wasn't really the right word for it, since it was more of an enlarged hole in the maintenance tunnels, ancient industrial lamps dangling from the ceiling. He took another pull on his cigarette and focused, the other cargo technician, Texas Bellum, looking across at him with red eyes. He scratched at the scar on the back of his neck.
Texas took a drag from his joint, blowing out a cloud of smoke before speaking. “Man you're not making any sense. Really ju-” Chadwick cut Texas off, waving his cigarette dismissively.
“No that's exactly it,” he lowered his hand and slapped his shoes onto the floor leaning forward aggressively, “That is exactly it.”
He pointed at Texas with his other hand, stroking his goatee with the other. “What I mean to say bro, and like listen to this broslice, that is exactly the BIZ that I have been trying to drop hotter than a fuckin' reverse-tychon plasma reactor leak like Centauri 6 bro-slice. No one is thinkin' hard enough, not you, not me, not NT. Bro shit man,” he flipped his shades down looking Texas in the eyes. “I tell you what home-slice. We're all just a bunch of brain-dead re-programmed corporate nobodies from other systems, and we're like, slaves to the machine or something man. Haha shit, that'd be rad as fuck. It's like the twenty second Matrix, but this time it's like, real.”
“Didn't they cancel the twenty third? I heard it reviewed bad for test audiences.” Texas Bellum slowly replied, taking the theory in.
Chadwick nodded solemnly, leaning back again. “Shame they killed the franchise man, it was the last hold out of old-Hollywood before Luna-wood took over. Artificial gravity lets you get away with a lot in cinema.”
“Yeah damn shame. Most stuff is CG anyway these days, or just IPC's in skin suits, pre-programmed actors y'know?” Texas paused, flicking his left wrist up checking the time. “Listen man, order comes in… in uuh, like two minutes. We should wrap up.” he stood and paused at the shutter, hand over the button, “Are my eyes red?”
Chadwick shook his head, “Bro you know the QM broski doesn't care. No one here is paid enough to care.” With that, he stood up and followed Texas back to work.