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“I wish you’d just take a draw and chill out Zane.” I stare at Rippon with empty eyes. I do not want to ‘chill out’; I want to scream at the sky, rend my clothes and tear chunks of my hair out in despair. My dearest love is dead. I am bereft. I am lost. I am desolate, and I should be. I must be, otherwise I’ll end up like him. Like them. Like all of them. Smiling, vacant dimwits living on yesterday’s happiness, one bought with a bargain price tag swinging in the breeze.

An Ismile in other words.

He’s clutching a canister of ismiles in his right hand. But never mind the bullshit logo, they’re known as ‘tins’ to the populace at large. Rippon lifts it up and inhales again, taking a long, deep, wheezing draw, and then laughs until tears begin to stream from his reddened, swollen eyes and soak into his black cotton scarf. What is he laughing at I wonder; does he even know? Is it one of his own Ismiles, or that of a random stranger? Maybe it was generated originally through the giddy laughter of a child; glee incarnate resonating through his or her tiny frame, thanks to the novelty of a brand new toy, desperately yearned for. Or perhaps it was gleaned from some callous action, the mean laughter conjured whilst torturing a prisoner – peeling off a fingernail slowly; drowning a struggling cat in the river and watching the last vestiges of life bubble from its thrashing body – why the possibilities are endless. And there’s no way of knowing either, unless you buy data specifics when ordering. They come in neat, palm-sized inhalers that rest snugly in the hand, the design perfectly ergonomic. Most people don’t want to know where their Ismile originated; it might distract from the moment, and they’re paying for a hit of pure pleasure, not circumstantial information and a guilt trip down the gullet.

If you are the kind to be concerned about the origins of your hit, you needn’t buy a stranger’s donation, of course, you can always keep it personal. We all know how easy it is to collect our own Ismiles as they happen. It may demand an element of effort, but the chance to relive some of your finest moments must be worth it, surely? So, you wear the small mouth insert; it sits tucked away at the side of your gum like a plug of old-time chewing tobacco, then apply the adhesive electro-chip behind your ear. Yes, you might have to wear them for hours on end until something worth collecting happens, but the dedicated believe the slog involved is rich in rewards. The dedicated . . . the addicted, more like.

‘Emotional gold’ they call it. You can keep it for yourself as a treat — if not for a rainy day, then certainly to aid the passage of a monotonous or distressing one. Alternatively, you can sell it to TIC —The Ismile Corporation. If you’re really sharp though, you offload it to one of the Grins who hang around the backstreets of the financial sectors in cities, grinning like acid-laced Cheshire Cats. But then sadly, most people are these days.

The Grins can be identified by their platinum iris covers. You have to be making a hell of a bundle to afford such expensive fripperies, and hey, they make a bundle alright. You’ll get a third on your margin selling through one of their marks than you will straight to TIC, but if you get caught by the police mid-transaction . . . you’re looking at a rescind of Ismile usage for six months to a year — longer for repeat offenders. That scares the crap out of people far more than any prison stretch does these days.

Now as you know, it’s not just laughter that people want in this life, not just smiles that are banked and sought after either. No, no, no. There are all manner of peccadilloes —  myriad pleasures that titillate the ego’s palate. Firstly, the obvious choice: lust have the perfect orgasm instantly, or as leisurely as you wish. Ecstasy is right there, just one drag away, a cornucopia of carnality at your fingertips. Or maybe you’d prefer power, to feel invincible! Ideal for striding into that presentation at work to guarantee a reception worthy of a God.

There’s even a demand for anger and misery — people who are meek in persona wish to seem stronger, to learn how to stand up to their shitty, bullying boss who humiliated the hell out of them only that morning; whilst someone who’s been beaten and bloodied in an abusive relationship multiple times can take a drag that will set loose a capacity for ice cold violence in return, one that’s borne of a very specific type of anger. And this demand has the true perpetrators of violence and brutality in the world now getting paid big bucks for their cruel pleasures. These days they can make a living out of their propensity for bullying and abuse, to humans and animals alike. Pain pays.

After a drag it’s all magic and lies, and they’re not pretty lies either.

And sure, at the beginning I was right up there with them— Rippon, Jeenae, and the rest of my friends — drawing away, time and again. The novelty! It was amazing! Instant happiness in a tin. The idea that you can have such gratification on call, well that’s a big pull these days, and interestingly enough, although for the first year of production the number one Ismile emotion drag were Pornsmiles, after a while it became clear to TIC that laughter and happiness were far more addictive to your average Joe or Josephine than split-second jollies, because, barring the impotent, people can provide their own climax within minutes for free in private, after all. Happiness? Not so easy. But I began to find it wearying. I don’t want to constantly bank my emotions for the future, because then I’m not living them in the moment with the usual clarity. And I need to feel pain, worry, anger; I need them because they make up who I am, who I will be, and without that absolute knowledge, by covering up all those emotional let-outs, wallpapering over them with something pretty, I’ll lose myself. I’ll become a facsimile of how I wish to be perceived, rather than who I innately am.

Turn the real times into currency and they aren’t so precious any more, partly because they can be experienced again, partly because it’s impossible not to be aware that you’re recording it. You find yourself thinking about that as you laugh, as your heart is in your mouth, even as you’re climaxing; then you begin over-gilding the lily a little, making sure it’s really worth banking it. And all these stored Ismiles . . . they can only be used once. Only once. You can’t keep going back for more of the same moment; the manufacturers were canny there, one drag, one absorption of emotion, then it’s gone. The standard ones you buy from the Ismile shops last from a few minutes up to an hour. Even your own stash is edited down to no more than an hour when cashed in, no matter how much you’ve recorded.

Now, we know you can get twenty-four-hour Ismiles on the black market, but they shit you up man. Big time. Overloading your brain in this fashion, with such incredibly concentrated emotions, means you come out the other end . . . no longer the balanced sentient being you once were. The mind rebels. You become a ‘blanker’ overnight. You’ve seen them; we all have. People are perfectly lucid one day, and the next nothing more than flesh machines —  eating, sleeping, communicating in only the most basic sense. Incapable of feeling anything. They’re burnt out. And the worst part for them is that there’s no turning back. It’s permanent, and even the Ismiles stop taking effect eventually. They can’t even get suicidal about the tragedy they’ve become. A human golem of the old world, devoid of emotion, simply functioning. The tears shed by their mothers, fathers, children . . . those tears have banked enough cash for a funeral just like those TIC execs can afford. Tears shed when their lost one, their poor pathetic blanker, clambers blindly out of a twentieth-floor window in a daze and falls, floundering gracelessly to their death, all quite aimlessly because they have no awareness of fear. Nor consequence.

Ultimately though, that’s where the whole population will go, Dronesville Tennessee, because the same is true with the small-time users — too many tins a day and things start to go wrong. And everyone wants an extra draw, just one more before bed at least, or a quickie on the way to work. The want builds up and up, perniciously invading the senses. Unlike with instant blankers, this leads to a slow degradation in behaviour; you feel less and less each week. Fewer real tears, fewer real laughs, vaguely contemplative silences that grow longer and longer until you become lost like them, too.

Some wit came up with a slogan that adorns many a t-shirt around the country — ‘It’s a slow passage to Grindia.

Hilarious.

The Grins have their own manufacturing system. They employ Trickmobs organised yet discrete small gangs of three or four who wander the streets keeping an eye out for anyone who obviously has a recorder going, and then setting them up; engineering a situation where the victim will experience a very strong emotion, ideally for a long time. The worst cases are the torture and rape scenarios; the real fear generated by the victims adds up to thousands of bitbucks in revenue, because there are plenty of sick fucks out there who will pay in spades for that kind of drag, and of course, the perpetrators are recording their own pleasure too. As a victim, at best, you’ll get entertained by someone charming and funny for the evening, one who has you laughing away at a party for hours.

The next level up is the Porntrick. Simple enough to carry out, they find someone a little drunk, send in a beautiful woman, man, blend of many, dependent upon the target’s preference, and reel them in with promises of whatever works commitment, flattery, money, mixed with extras such as job offers, potential modelling contracts, any likely enticement. Soon you’re in a back alley having sex, or ending up in a stranger’s flat being fucked sideways whilst believing you’re on the stairway to heaven with Lady Luck at your side. Shortly afterwards your recorder is stolen from your mouth, and the electro-chip’s ripped off— a part of your life stored and then burgled. Lost.

This potentiality means that when it comes to real life dating . . . well, how can you possibly know if anyone is genuine? Are they ever speaking the truth? Are they real, or is it a set-up for a fast buck and a fuck at your expense? The line has been crossed now, and you simply cannot be sure who is honest, and who is out to rob you of your soul. And the basic Porntrick is just for starters. You could be really unlucky. You see, there’s a demand in the pensioner sector for some real filth that no one would have believed before Ismiles arrived on the market.

People in their seventies and eighties these days want to have it all back — the sex of their youth, but better, harder, crueller. And the trend has led from using mild and innocuous Pornsmiles, onwards and . . . upwards. Experimentation in areas never dreamed of when they were young is now in high demand; so there’s always money to be made, be it legally, or illegally. Over to the Trickmobs again. Most of the victims will have been piped-up with synthetic Vettol, slipped unknowingly into one of the many free drinks they’re being plied with. It leaves no trace in the system and cuts chunks of your memory out with cold efficiency. No matter how hard you scream, no matter how much pain and degradation you endure . . . you won’t remember. But it will have happened. And you don’t get those brain cells back.

The Medaid Bank emergency rooms are constantly packed with patients who cannot explain their sometimes perverse and frighteningly bizarre injuries. And the majority lie when asked how these appalling wounds and cuts come to pass, because the shame of admitting they’ve been duped so easily is harder to bear than the pain. They really don’t want to know themselves, and they can’t remember the actual deeds, so . . . It’s not that hard to just fork out the cash to get a ten-minute skin graft, or new nose, say, and hey, all they need do if they’re feeling unhappy about it is . . . suck it up. Take a draw and just suck it up, people.

As to my personal tragedy; I think of her and feel as though the skin on my chest is being sliced open continuously with the most finely honed of razor blades, my heart dragged out through bruised ribs, then cut into shreds before my fading, bloodshot eyes. Again and again. And I shall continue to feel this forever, by choice, because I never want to forget how much I loved her; the remarkable, strange and wonderful a girl she was.

She was standing in the middle of the shuttle tracks, gazing dully at the sun, blankly you might say, when the 11.40-morning express hit her face on.

She was fearless that one.

In the end.

I have one Ismile left. I found it in her jeans’ pocket when I was holding a bundle of her clothes, burying my face in them, smelling the soft, familiar scent of her, knowing the aromas would soon fade and never return, whilst crying, crying, crying as my world disappeared into pointless oblivion. The tin fell into my lap. I know which one it is, she’s written on the label — “Loving Zane in the snow”. It’s from two winters ago, the last time we had snow here, and then for only a couple of days.

We were larking around being silly, snowballs aplenty flying around; I fell backwards into a huge snowdrift after tripping over my feet, and she couldn’t stop laughing as my ass was snared on some frozen hawthorn branches and I couldn’t stand upright again. She went from giggling, to loud laughter, to falling to the ground herself, cracking up with giddiness. I remember she took a deep hiccoughing breath in between her laughs and said: “You’re goofy Zane, but God I love the bones of you.”

That’s the drag in this tin, and I can never, ever use it, or it will have gone forever and then I’ll have nothing left at all.

My despair is absolute.

Maybe I should bank it.

 

 

 

 

For those who are new to the Cloud, please read the information at the following link regarding the Simulcast Fragments. Thank you – Esme

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