Updated: Sep 24, 2021
Inspirational pop art by Patrice Murciano
Gearhead. That’s what they call me. They think it means I’m slow, archaic, obsolete. They got it backwards. Too stuck in the now, in the chrome, in the updates, to know what they’re talking about.
“No way that chic’s worth the time. Check her: doesn’t even have face.” They laugh with their little synthetic frequencies. Property of the latest megacorp guaranteed to make you unique. As unique as everyone else who could afford that latest update.
No, I don’t have any neuro-synthetic hard to wetware interfacing. But only because I don’t got jack to interface to. My processing’s all natural. 100% organic neosapian. Get called a potato from time to time. Talk about archaic. Get some scrap components together and you can light up one of them old school bulbs with a potato. More useful than most of these fragheads.
Something changed going into the 22nd century. Culture’d been shifting from natural to synthetic and back for a while. Shifting from concrete to abstract. From physical to digital. The year 2108 changed that. There was no more shift, no more back and forth. The ambiguous “they” figured out how to interface between man and machine, between spinal cord and motherboard, between soul and software.
Everything quit moving. Machines had fewer moving parts, society had fewer moving vehicles. People had fewer moving thoughts. Everything became automated. Humans were taken out of the equation. A few people used the opportunity to build, envision, create. But they died out or were bought out. Everything came to a standstill. I didn’t.
I kept my moving parts. I kept the gears in my head turning. Everyone put their trust in solidstate and line upon line of code. I kept my trust in my own human body; the most intricate and powerful processing device on the planet. Just because other people were too tortoise to figure out how to use theirs doesn’t mean they aren’t worth anything.
Sure, I’m missing out on a few things. People got instant info uploads and download directly into their eye sockets. They got data jacks in the back of their necks or wireless implants under the scalp. But what are they doing with it? All this tech, all this knowledge, all this power, and they’re wasting away. Nothing’s moving. Stagnant.
There is someone. Someone’s out there making a name for themselves. Making a world of problems for some of the execs of the megacorps and government types. They say he has access to the latest tech around; military stuff. Some say he stole it. Some say that’s impossible. Both are idiots.
Last year this guy stole unimaginable amounts of secrets from some of the biggest names in popular products. And did nothing with them. He just sat on it and watched the world run circles around themselves trying to figure out what to do. It was amazing. See, he’s figured out that once things stop moving, it’s easier to get a hold of it. You can’t hack a piece of paper. You can’t drop an EMP on a summit hearing of 100 world leaders and instantly destabilize a dozen countries. You can’t just delete a gear.
Here’s the best part of this guy’s plan. He’s doing high end hacking. He’s doing high end trading. He’s stealing high end secrets. He’s got to have some high end tech, right?
That’s what they think.
Here’s the thing. If he had that kind of tech, someone would know about it. Someone would have sold it to him. Someone would have noticed if it went missing from some production line or secure testing facility. Someone would have seen something because that’s what everyone is looking for. Don’t do something popular if you want to stay out of the crowd.
This guy doesn’t have the latest and greatest. This guy doesn’t have any of it. This guy is a meat bag, like me. How do I know this? Chalk it up to brilliant deduction and the use of my own homegrown wetware. Or, say I cheated. Because that guy pulling those stunts, proving a point, and making people squirm: that guy’s me.
That tech guy don’t have tech. That guy’s not even a guy. I am the exact opposite of what they’d expect so I’m the last person they’re gonna look at. I could walk into the center of New Tokyo and tell everyone I met that I’m the guy. No one would listen. The world’s in my palm, it’s open, and no one’s taking it from me.
They can’t comprehend the irony. If being a gearhead means moving faster, more efficient, and productive, I’ll take it. Put me down, but I’m still at the top. Pointing out you got nothing moving around up there isn’t exactly the self-compliment you think you’re dealing to yourself.
So yeah, call me a gearhead, slag. I’ll take it.
The ink ran in streams of multi-colored rainbows down the billboard. He shook his head, feeling his exhaustion water down his scorn.
They’d painted it - in City Square no less - the day everyone knew it would rain? With weather so predictable, one would think billboard artisans would think before slopping paint onto the canvas, high up above everyone’s heads.
He shook his head again and threw his leg over his speed cycle, wincing slightly. He hopped a couple times to get into position, took off one glove with his plated teeth, licked his middle finger, and placed it on the start pad between the grip bars. The cycle thrummed to life and after a couple moments, hovered vibrating over the ancient pavement. Clumps of black tar and concrete shards rolled away from under the cycle as he leaned down and pressed his knees into the acceleration pads.
Piece of junk, he thought fondly. The cycle was getting too old to run reliably, but it had been a gift, and he wouldn’t think of replacing it until it became literal junk, unable to take him anywhere anymore.
He pulled into cycle traffic and took the first spiral up to the arc way.
Still feeling restless from the sight of the billboard, he sighed and decided to do what Lila always told him: address the problem, Remy. Look it in the eye.
He frowned. Lila was the problem in this case - or rather, the runny billboard’s depiction of Lila was the problem.
He decided to look the problem in the eye later.
As he turned gently into the arc way, he tried to ignore the other billboards with her face on it. The paint wasn’t running on these billboards: they’d been up for the public eye for months now. Seven months exactly - not that he was counting.
The electric blue and magenta mohawk and metal ring swirling from her ear didn’t bother him, nor the gears protruding from her temple. These things didn’t change who a person was. No, it wasn’t that.
It was the look in her eye, the slightly parted lips that were colored with a purple lipstick that made them look swollen and bruised. Her eyes held none of the spark that he’d always seen when he peered into their depths, feeling the excitement that always budded in his insides when they talked about anything and everything. Their dreams, the problems of the proletariat, the new melon flavor geneticists had brought to the fruit category on their home order consoles, his headmaster’s new leg, or even whether her parents would finally get rid of their holographic weasel. Her green eyes went from serious to laughing to crying in a blink, but one expression they never held was lifelessness.
At least before they hadn’t. Now…
It’s only a picture, he scolded himself grimly, knowing he was lying to himself. These old school “painters” as they called themselves in the retro community, prided themselves on their realism. They thought they could compete with the holographic community by being realistic and striking at the same time. Usually he wouldn’t care, but lately he hoped their promises were lies to the easily swayed consumer.
Why did she have to leave?
The question popped into his head again as he navigated the arc way looking for the spiral to his pod. He was disgusted with himself.
Stop it, he told his brain. You’ve been over this how many times?
As many times as he could stuff into seven months.
His spiral appeared, and he veered up. The cycles beneath him shot by in a continuous streak of grey and blue, the hot cycle colors of the season.
The cheery sight of his yellow pod couldn’t cheer him up, but it did distract him for the amount of time it took to slide the cycle into its slot and climb the ladder to his entryway. He unstrapped his safety link, hooked it to the ring by the door, and depressed the button that sucked him into the entry. The antigravity that kept the pod and its string of neighbors afloat temporarily made his stomach jumble. He closed his eyes, popped a stabilizer pill, and waited for his stomach to calm down. He’d lived here two years, but the stabilizer pill that he kept in his pocket was still necessary at least a few times a week. Others adjusted more quickly, but he was not so lucky. One of the dreams he and Lila had discussed was his fantasy of moving to the country where he could live on the ground as he had as a child, though in a less crowded environment than the City Center. A sky pod was still better than that. The mortality rate down there was just too high, as his parents’ early deaths had proved.
Lila had grown up in a pod, so she had always laughed at him, though the pictures he painted in their minds of the idyllic countryside with blue sky held an unmistakable allure for her as well. They’d both become disillusioned with the fast paced city life during university, where they’d met - him on scholarship and her on full-paid tuition by her wealthy parents.
Thinking of university brought him back around. She’d had a solid career afterwards as a curator at the Pre-2100s Music Museum on 4000th Street. She was mixing with high class people, with art snobs, with historians. How had she gotten in with the Groundies? He could have warned her away - in fact, he had - he knew all too well the sort of life they held. That was why he’d escaped to university at City Square: to change himself and make a new life from scratch after the accident.
It only took a couple months of her running around with them before she’d disappeared from his radar and began popping up on billboards instead.
His job on the Arc Way Control Board gave him the change he’d wanted just in time to lose the one person who had always made him feel like a real person, not just a Groundie from City Center.
He pulled himself along the hall tube to his kitchenette and punched his order into the console. Fingers tapping the metal countertop, he saw the running paint again in his mind as clearly as if it were streaming down his own yellow wall.
Steam puffed from the delivery orb, and he pulled it open to retrieve his nutrition pack - melon flavored. He ripped it open with his teeth, tasting the sweet, tangy contents.
Memories flashing through his mind, he finally gave in.
He couldn’t take it anymore.
Tomorrow he’d go looking.
Ok, I'll admit: I had a lot of fun with this, significantly more fun that I thought I would. Perhaps cyberpunk is in my future. You be the judge.
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