"Jake, my name's Jake Bartheim.
I'm the guy who's just been released from prison after ten
years. You can tell, can't you? Yeah, it's my ten-year-old
fashion that gives me away. I've just been released this afternoon.
I'm lucky to have caught the last bus into clown town, I guess.
No money, no job, no prospects, right? What the hell is a
man like me, a man with my reputation, supposed to do? I'll
tell you what I'm not going to do: I'm not going to
get caught pissing in the streets or hanging out with people
I've be warned off. No, ma'am. This is my release resolution.
I will not do what I should not do. I've done my time and
I will not make the same mistake twice. I've learned my lesson.
I've done my time."
She was about fifty years old, trying
to pass herself off as a thirty-five/forty-year-old. It was
a fairly good attempt. Nice clothes. Nice hair. Nice nose.
You'd wonder what a woman like her was doing riding the last
bus into clown town. I was tempted to ask her where her 'sugar
daddy' was but I was unsure if that sorta lingo was still
legal tender. Being in prison's like being in a funky dude-oiled-afro
and wing-tipped-collared time warp. Yeah, we've got MTV and
all'a that mod-cons programming and stuff but it's the mentality
of the dungeon. It's caught in a time warp based on the inmates.
There's a whole culture of prison-talk that's nothing like
what you hear out on the streets.
Prison is its own planet.
"You listening to me? I
said I'm gonna get a job. Jobs seem as slippery as eels, but
it's easy: they're so easy to catch."
This fifty-year-old woman got up from
her seat and moved up to the front of the bus. She didn't
complain to the driver and have me thrown off, but you could
see she was spooked. Well, let her be spooked. Maybe I'll
find her later and do some spooking of my own. No class anymore,
plastic surgery ghouls haunting the last bus into clown town,
it's just not on. Maybe she wanted me to lean over and just
strangle her to death. She wanted me to hold her face in my
sweating palms and force my thumbs into her eyes while she
scratched at my forearms, the thick, red metal-smelling sauce
pouring down onto her soft white blouse, her mouth a silent
gape. I can't understand these modern ladies.
Yeah, I caught a job. Just like that.
I told you it would be easy. I was good at catching fish as
a boy. Now, as an adult, I'm good at catching jobs. And me
only three and a half hours out of the clink. It's an easy
job. There was an ad in the window, so I walked in.
The ad said: HELP WANTED.
It was a cheap ad on the wall of a
factory in some stinking side street off of the main drag.
So I wandered in and gave them my help. The pay is shit, of
course. Those sorts of jobs always are. It was the games industry.
3D graphics. What? How can a shit-heap like me get gainful
employment in the games industry doing 3D graphics? Well,
you know, in prison they got computers and there's heavily-regulated
access to the internetbut you can still get a download
of the latest trial software and you've got all the time you
need to learn how it works, right?
* * *
The games industry isn't what it used
to be. I mean, you don't sit there hacking meshes from the
nonsense of virtual 3D space anymorethat was ten years
ago. You had to do everything back then. Back then
they called the 2D guys PIXEL PUSHERS. And the 3D guys like
myself VERTEX BUTCHERS (because one always had to build to
the highest render quality then pull back the poly count to
fit it into the real-time engine). You don't have to laboriously
hand-animate the individual matricesthat's what burned
out a LOT of the old guys. So, before I got thrown in the
can, I did a stint with a small firm within my commuter radius
(back when I had a car, wife, life). The money wasn't much
better then, but I hear it's got real shit since then. It's
not an industry crash or anything like that. In fact, there's
never been a time when 'computer games', as they're still
called, were so popular. Now young and old, black or
white, gay or straight, in fact, any sexual, social or financial
quadrant of the global demographic is catered to. The thing
that really changed it all was a product called SYMBIOSIS.
Symbiosis, that's the software
package I've been training on for the last eight years, behind
bars. It was a small company that had a few new ideas, one
of which was a unique user interface that negated all the
manual input and tedium of its 'competitors' at the time.
Symbiosis took a lot of the other firms to court, won,
closed down its competition, and the rest is historythey
played a clever legal game. But how does Symbiosis work?
I know that's the question you're dying to ask.
But before I tell you, I bet you're
wondering how did a fool like me without a degree in Computer
Science (at the least) get a job in the 3D games industry
in the first place. Then how did I so easily fall back into
it after such a ten-year sabbatical? Well, I'm full
of spunk and what you'd call common enthusiasm for my craft.
I got loads of busy bees buzzing around in my head. Yeah,
I've got no qualifications, but I have one thing the games
industry respected back then and encourages in their employees
today: the desire to get shafted in the ass at every opportunity.
There's no Union in the games industry, so they can get away
with murder for their art.
You see, that's what I do. That's my
natural talent. How come you didn't get it earlier? How come
you didn't suss me out? I stand out like a sore thumb. I'm
the wrong agealways felt like the granddad among the
grandkids even ten years hence. I guess today's a lot different
from my time in the industry. But it still has the same sharks
preying on the hapless individualsboth employees and
customers. They didn't even need to interview me for the job,
that's how easy it was. They had a file on me already. They
must have been waiting to headhunt my sort of lunatic. I attract
flies like shit, I guess.
When history looks back on it, they'll
see me in the same light that they saw the grave robbers of
old. During the last four hundred years of life of the Oxford
prison, those who were hanged for their crimes would be submitted
to an even more hideous eternal torment of having their slipped-off
mortal coil dissected for medical purposes. But even back
then there were never enough corpses to cut up. So they employed
grave robbers to go and dig up the dead. Obviously you had
to have an eye open, as a grave robber; it was no point delivering
rotting corpses to the medical schools via the back door.
They wanted cadavers that were fresh, well, fresh in the sense
that but for the coldness of the flesh and the lack of social
graces one could imagine that they could in the very next
instance sit up from their mortuary slumber and shout, "I'll
do anything, just please don't Y-cut my beautiful torso!"
It's the same with the Symbiosis
software. Originally, you had actors who would interface with
the Symbiosis software via a few dermal clip-ons and
a braincap. The routines would run, then the data would be
taken. It was nothing clever. It just went through the random
probabilities of movement from electromagnetic muscular stimulation.
It worked out all the geometry from surface tension tests,
it worked out the joint limitations from muscular spasming,
and based on melanin cross-matching and skin resistance, it
built its own fully dynamic, fully textured characters for
use in 'popular interactive entertainment'. But you know how
it is. Everybody gets sick of the same old actors in their
games. Even in a different skin, you go, "Gah, that's
just the guy from Infinite Fighter 112 ®" or "That's
the same dance girl they used in Pole Dancer 56 ®".
These actors were paid well for their service to the art of
locomotionthey were downloading not their souls but
their physical acuity into the Symbiosis software. We were
stealing their lives while retaining their souls so that a
Purgatory of eternal torture could befall them. The general
game-buying public knows too much; they remember everything.
They want variety every time. New things must jingle in front
of them at every opportunity like colourful mobiles for babies,
you know, those hanging toys that keep babies from crying.
Well, that's where criminals like me
come in. What the global games industry wants, the global
games industry gets. That's what I supply. The bodies. Well,
I'm not exactly a body snatcher or grave robber. I just collect
the bodies' data for games companies. As I said, there are
never enough bodies to satisfy the consumer's desire for constant
change, so I'm very unlikely to be out of work any time soon.
And who really cares if the capturing process is fatal in
about 1 in 7 non-professional captures? Don't you just love
the corruption of the corporate mindset?
When you eat a nectarine, it really
is like chewing down on a person's skull, the thick skin on
the forehead and the plump redness of the brain. It's just
a perfect food for such as me. And at least the company supplies
them for freepay monkeys in peanuts, that's the GoldenRule.
Anyway, back to today's first three
jobs: a fat politician, a gangly youth and a mother. It's
for some online soapthat's the real big thing
nowonline soap. Everybody got real sick of TV soaps
before I went into prison. They had just saturated the market.
Then some clever boffin came up with the interactive soap
engine where you could actually be a part of the action. It
was mostly online gaming by this time with a lovely Thinky-Cap
interface. The entire world got the addiction. Everyone effectively
became anonymous within the strict confines of their online
personas. It was all the rage. The ultimate cross-dressing.
The fat politician and the gangly youth
I've already 'captured'that's what we call it in the
biz: Character Capture. There's no abduction involved. It's
not that kind of criminal act. No bodies are snatched, other
than the data of their living selves. That's all the companies
need: the data of the character and how it movesthat's
the essence of my trade, trapping motivation: trapping the
vital essence of performance. You'd never go back to the old
days knowing you could do it this way. It's so much simpler
for all concerned. Then she approaches me.
Well, she's not approaching me, she's
just walking down the street, but she's walking in my direction.
There's certainly some urban edge there to her kinky little
street strut. Pushing a sports buggy in which a fat mixed-race
child lies at a funny angle, stone cold sleeping; maybe druggedyou
know what these young estate mothers are like; they'll do
anything for a bit of peace and quiet. She's got these garish
fashion shades on and her head's held high, she's about to
pass me byshe has this great attitude. She's known for
the whole length of the street that she's been in my scope.
Maybe she's looking for Talent Scouts like me to impress.
Maybe she dreams of having her jittering screaming trembling
auto-motive system captured for digital immortality. She would
make a great ingame character, there's no doubt. I'd be a
total dumkopf and a shame to my trade not to capture her.
So, that's what I resolve to dothat will be my final
job for the day.
"I'll have what he's having."
I open the gambit with a cheesy grin, right there in the street.
I remember convincing my wife to wear
a Japanese face-kit at home. I never wanted a Japanese wife,
but the wife I had had the perfect body, apart from the lack
of Japanese face. She didn't seem to mind. I mean, after all,
it was just a bit of thick eye-liddery and that platinum-black
wig. It wasn't much of a burden so that our love could soar
like the pigeons that used to flutter around the prison every
day for ten years. I would convince her to repaint her nipples
and allow her underarm and pubic hair to grow to tangled raggedy
patches on her otherwise spotless corpse. Oops, there I go
again with the C-word. It's a hard habit to break. Wife killer,
they'd congratulate me in the prison. It's not like I was
a wife batterer; I had been nothing but considerate with my
wife those three and a half years. But a man can snap and
all the other cons understood that. A man can snap. It gave
me a certain reputation with the other cons, toohe's
a man that can snap, they whispered among themselves. He can
"He's zonked. He's been to a play
party all morning. Look at him." This proud mother puts
her weight onto her right leg and tilts her head sympathetically,
a natural catch for the industry. She fingers the long brown
fringe out of her eyes, she even moves like an ingame character.
She looks over her shades. She has glorious hazel eyesmaybe
mahoganyreally rich brown with golden sparkles.
* * *
Of course the temptation was there.
She was a good looking young girl. I'd just about wangled
my way into her place for 'coffee' and it was the simplest
thing to spike her drink with the correct dose of Dozey
(the regulation somnolent all the respectable games companies
were using) and soon she was all prepped and ready for capture.
It was a pokey little apartment, more a living room with a
big sofa bed along the back wall; to one side was a kitchen
area and a shower area. Smelled of sour baby stuff. Proper
little single mother's apartment she probably scavenged off
the council when her mom threw her out of the family home
in disgrace or some such sob story. It's okay, I'm not being
judgementallet him who casts the first stone and all'a
She reacted very well to the Dozey
and just for added effect (though it wasn't in the manual)
I'd stripped the young girl down to her cream-coloured cotton-effect
knickers so that her breasts would flail around when she was
in the throes of a Symbiosis captureI mean a sleazy
job like this has to have perks, right? I was already hard
at the prospect of a proper good capture-fuck after my ten
years away. I'd put the rubber gag in her mouth so she wouldn't
chew the enamel off her teeth when I switched on the Symbiosis
interface. She actually asked me what was in my briefcase
with a wry smile on her face as she opened the door to her
pungent apartment. I was so tempted to spill the beans and
just let her off with a cautionary note about her posture
in public. But I couldn'tshe was just too perfect for
the role. Why this didn't alert me, I don't know. Maybe I
was just ring rusty; that's what they refer to a boxer who
falls for the first feinting right cross only to be caught
under the chin by the left uppercut.
I'd flicked the switch on her and her
body was just rattling through the upper-dermis emulation;
the tingling calm before the storm of her joint calibration.
I'd just worked up a steady rhythm and a good healthy sweat
when her child starts to scream in its buggy. How was I to
know the two had been wired together by some technology I'd
never heard about in my time away? My employers didn't warn
me about 'the competition' in the world of body capture. I
should have known. Her eyes flitted open with the shriek of
the child. Maybe an adrenalin rush had been manufactured with
the shrieking bodyguard going off like a snivelling siren.
I only looked around in anger at the wailing babe.
She reached up and zapped me with this
thing on her ring finger. Stung like hell.
She stood over me like a fiery mirage,
all smiles and peer appreciationshe'd already showered
and dressed. I could tell because there was a very fresh smell
to her. She seemed very proud of something, nodding to herself
in approval. I could feel that the Symbiosis dermal
clip-ons and braincap had been applied to my tingling body.
"I couldn't believe it when I
saw you coming towards me in the street." You could see
the dreams of how she'd spend her commission floating about
in her hazel eyes. "You just screamed grieving husband.
You'd be perfect for the game I'm working on." She smiled,
flicking the switch to CAPTURE.