twinmaker

“The Other Fly”

Not to be confused with this fly.


Drugs and d-mat are a match made in heaven. We’ve all heard the stories: there are farmers who grow mutated crops in search of the next super-high, which they’ll pattern and distribute to anyone who has the right contacts. There are molecular mechanics who change substances one particle at a time and inject willing volunteers with the results, writing off the occasional death as the price you pay for perfection.

What about people using hacks to directly screw with the brain, bypassing all that messy chemistry and going straight for the neurons themselves?

You don’t hear about that very often. Not because it isn’t possible, but because it’s bloody hard to get right.

My cousin worked for a hospital in Berlin for a while. There was a guy there: I won’t use his name because he might get into trouble. Before he came to Berlin he was a security officer in an underground compound somewhere secret. There were no doors or windows. He came and went by d-mat only, and was scanned after every shift in case he’d taken anything with him. They even made him swap out his lenses for ones that couldn’t record.

Anyway, the compound was full of apparently ordinary people, he says. People who were never allowed outside and never received visitors. It took him weeks to work out what happened to them. He told my cousin and then she told me. I believe her because . . . well, when I’ve finished the story you’ll understand why.

Imagine you’re young and into getting high. You started with the usual stuff and now you’re looking for something harder. Or you’re a peacekeeper and you don’t want to be busted by a random blood test. Or whatever: you’re looking for something new, and then you hear about a particular hack . . .

It sounds so easy. You go through a booth and come out mellow. Or flying high. Or seeing visions of giant melting lizards. My cousin’s friend was a bit vague about what the hack was supposed to do. He was more concerned by what it also did.

You use the hack and you feel great. But when you come down you’ve got pins and needles everywhere, and it doesn’t go away. It’s highly disconcerting, so you use the hack again in the hope that the side-effect will cancel itself out. You arrive high again, but the pins and needles feeling is still there. In fact, it’s even worse than before. Now you feel like you’re full of swarming flies, tickling you from the inside.

You contact the guy who gave you the hack and you say, what gives? You’re told that this happens sometimes. There’s a fix–another hack that will get rid of that feeling straight away.

So you go to this other guy and get this other hack, and it does what it’s advertised to do. The pins and needles go away. Only now it feels like your joints are being hammered by dozens of malicious and persistent dwarves. Every move you make hurts you. All the time.

Another side effect, you’re told. Another hack will fix that.

This one gets rid of the chronic pain–which thank god, because you were about to kill yourself–only now you find that you can’t stop shaking, you can barely even stand, and it takes all the willpower you have to call the third hacker for help.

Your friends can see what’s happening to you, but what can they do? All of you are well out of the grey area now. They’re swimming in potential consequences. The only course of action any of them can think of is to help you move on to the next hacker, the next quick fix, quick smart.

This one strips you of your ability to talk. The one after that leaves you unable to recall anything that brought you here, surrounded by friends who are all looking at you oddly.

The next leaves you a dribbling vegetable.

Really, your friends should have known when enough was enough–The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly story never ends well–but they’re afraid for themselves and they’re afraid for you.

What’s the worst the next hack can do? Kill you? Because looking at you right now, that might be a blessing.

The final hack is the best yet. It brings everything back. You can stand on your own. You remember what brought you here. You can talk. There are no tremors or pain or pins and needles. It’s a miracle.

And for a while that miracle holds.

Only you like cheese now, whereas previously you thought it smelt like vomit. You’ve started being rude to some of your oldest friends. You obsessively exercise and watch obscure Jewish porn, occasionally at the same time. You can even speak Hebrew, which you couldn’t do before. You start sleeping with guys.

The hack changed you.

Yet you still think you’re you, and when finally the PKs come to sort things out you’re utterly mystified. This is the way you’ve always been, you tell them, so why are you being locked underground with a bunch of other people. People of all ages and all types, from all different backgrounds. Why are you being cooped up like this?

Then you realise that all of them like cheese, just like you. And they’re all fitness freaks too, with a handful of weird fetishes in common. You start conversing with them in Hebrew as though you’ve known each other all your lives . . .

And all the while you’re being studied. For clues.

The last hack didn’t fix you, it turns out. It patched over the gaps in your mind and body with data taken from one single person, presumably the criminal who created the hack. It turned you back into a walking, talking, fully functional person, but one who only thought they were their old self. Most of you isn’t, not anymore.

The fix was designed to take the heat off the hackers who got you into this position. That’s all. It wasn’t about fixing you in the long-term.

Which leaves the PKs in an awkward spot. A crime’s been committed, but who benefits from making a big noise about it? If they let on that this kind of thing could happen to anyone, people will stop using d-mat and the world will grind to a halt. That’s why they keep the victims well out of the public eye. Swept under the rug like god only knows how many other victims of other hacks, while they meticulously build up a profile of the person responsible. Only when they’re certain of what the final hacker was like, based on all the things these poor people have in common, can they start to work out who he or she is.

My cousin’s friend think they will never catch the hacker. His theory is that the hacker gave himself up years ago by pretending to be a victim. After all, what’s the best place to hide when everyone’s looking for you? Among people who are exactly like you. Even if it does mean being locked underground for the rest of your life . . .

Remember that next time someone offers you the perfect trip. Getting back home is sometimes harder you think.

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