by Mike Philbin

Recently released from prison, a game designer searches for his next capture.

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"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 internet—but 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 anymore—that 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 matrices—that'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 history—they 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 age—always 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 individuals—both 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 locomotion—they 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 free—pay 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 soap—that's the real big thing now—online 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 moves—that'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 drugged—you 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 by—she 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 do—that 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, too—he's a man that can snap, they whispered among themselves. He can do anything.

"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 eyes—maybe mahogany—really 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 judgemental—let him who casts the first stone and all'a that.

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™ capture—I 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't—she 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 appreciation—she'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.




Copyright © 2008 Mike Philbin

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