I've been spending my free time sleeping, watching Top Chef, or playing Mass Effect. I just finished up another chapter on New Years Eve, and have been taking the last couple days to chill on the writing front. We'll see if I spend my time wisely tomorrow.
I have plenty of chapter work left to give, and I plan on hitting out the last two chapters of the novel before the end of the month. So, here's a dip into more serious turf after all the breeziness of the last couple chapters. Not to say that this chapter doesn't have its lighter moments, but this is the first look of the actual rebel clones that have taken up the background of this story.
The fighting is much more prevalent on the west coast than in Ocean City, where it was more of an underground movement localized in a ghetto. But now we're in full blown fighting in the streets, hit and run guerrilla tactics and trying to capture how a movement sprung from whispers in the dark. This chapter is a pay off of chapter 3's news reports of clones setting themselves on fire in protest, and a little more light gets shed on the rebellion at large that our Clonetown group has been trekking across new America to join.
Today's chapter actually almost catches us up to where I am in the rewrite progress, which means that it's also quite close to the end. We've got 5 more chapters to go before this whole preview experiment comes to a close.
It's weird thinking about how long this novel's taken to even get to this point. This whole deal started as a blurb in my notebook back in 2010 after I had a dream. I was living in apartment 211 at the inspiration for Das Komplex and I woke up alone that morning. Trying to hold onto all that I could from the dream, I opened my notebook to the first blank spot I could find and jotted down the basic premise at the core of the story. Essentially a barista hacker saving his best friend from a super mega corp. Over the years more inspirations and pieces fell into place. The clone rebellion started as a conversation over breakfast about cloned actors reshooting classic films for holovision. That added the clone angle, which isn't really a cyberpunk trope, but it's in Neuromancer. The name+number convention that I use for Brawl17 was inspired by 3Jane. I felt the number before the name didn't flow as well as the number after.
But from that dream it turned into an outline, into a first draft, and now we're here. It took six years, and we're almost at the end. It could have taken much less time, but hey, it's about the journey, not the destination, right? Whatever, I've rambled enough. Here comes the chapter. DOG!
No one could ever tell if The Canby was open under normal circumstances. Tonight, it looked like it was abandoned. The door around back was unlocked regardless of the appearance of the façade. Under the bar counter lighting was the only one flicked on. Decker entered on light feet unable to shake the sneaking suspicion that this was a trap to test his corporate loyalty.
Inside the main bar, he checked the wrong corner first. His entire upper arm was engulfed in an augmented grip followed by a catcher’s mitt of a hand covering his mouth.
“Shhhh,” Brawl17 released Decker and put a finger to his lips. He urged Decker behind the wine rack along the wall, down a rickety set of wood stairs that he never knew existed in a bar he used to frequent on a nightly basis.
Decker’s cartography app drew and tallied the unexplored region beneath the bar. Blue beams of light sprang into view, dancing about their bodies. Decker triggered a dissatisfied tone accompanied by a yellow shift in color. They flipped to green for Brawl17.
“I’m guessing that’s new,” said Decker.
“It can tell you don’t have a phr33ked chip in your head,” said Brawl17.
Decker scoffed, “What, no poison gas or lasers?”
“Don’t tempt us, guvvy.” Brawl17 gave Decker an unbalancing shove.
Passing the threshold of a reinforced security door, signs of humanity crashed into them like a wave. Oil, body odor and various smokes filled the air. White noise of chatter and machine drones supplied the soundtrack.
The underground area was an ant farm of found materials and sameish looking folk. Brawl17 crooked an arm around Decker’s neck, pulling him into the maze of an impromptu trade school, business area, and hostel.
Decker couldn't help but sport a grin as they passed the makeshift cubicles of hammered together wood and metal. Inside each partition, groups were headed by one worker caste or another, teaching their trades to anyone willing to learn. Tailoring, urban gardening, home electronics repair and hotel management were taught alongside firearms maintenance, medgel application and field wound dressing.
Brawl17 navigated Decker through improvised sectioning and pre-existing tunnels, “Who’da thunk this type of slag was under here the whole time?”
“I’d always heard jokes about bomb shelters under the city, but never paid it much mind,” Decker said. “You’d think a place like this would be flooded with fish mutants by now.”
Brawl17 shrugged with an, “Eh. Could be. Not like we’ve been looking for them.”
“Well, neither were we.”
The path they followed opened to what would have been a clearing, if not for all the slag lying about. Clones darted about the back of the space; texting furiously, writing on chalkboards illuminated by work lamps, and handing off dumbpaper documents. At the center sat an extended leaf dining table, the surface strewn with maps, blueprints and schematics marked with access points and operation markers. Behind it stood Sweeps and a clone Decker swore he’d seen before in a vid or something.
The familiar looking clone smiled at their approach in the dim halogen light. “Welcome to the command center. You must be Decker. Much has been said about you.”
Sweeps did a double take. “You made it,” Sweeps glanced behind Decker. “Where’s your buddy?”
“Had work,” Decker grunted. “I see you’ve been busy.”
“Revolting takes an army, as they say.” The kind faced clone said to them. He extending his hand across the table in greeting, “You can call me Freeman. That’s what my template is named at least. I don’t know anything better to call myself.” Freeman’s handshake was firm and reassuring.
“When did all,” Decker gestured to the map boards and blue prints, “this, happen?”
“One might say it started once the first of our kind had the courage to set fire to themselves,” Freeman began. “Their sacrifice coalesced into a cause, which grew into several revolutionary cells, like this one. With the global matter shortage, those of us in the thespian caste were found to be the most frivolous usage of cloning, despite having the highest visible profile.”
Decker said, “No offense, but reshooting classic flicks for HoloVision was getting pretty stale.”
“Try to imagine filming Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with a gun to your head.” said Freeman.
“These initial rebels sent a message to the establishment. We are more than the organic matter they use to spawn us. We have just as much heart and soul as the next human being. And when human beings get pushed around enough, they will push back.”
Decker looked to the faces of each caste in the war room. “I know that you don’t know me from the next guvvy. And I’m more than willing to give the establishment a shove, but Roplaxive-Pharrel have placed a traitor in your ranks. All in the hope of giving an excuse to cull you for that organic matter.”
Freeman closed his eyes and smiled as if he were exhausted. “Yes, as the Ocean City group you are associated with informed us. But as for now, it is of little concern. What concerns us is that we are outnumbered. These hybrid-clones that have replaced the Roplaxive-Pharrel security force are much more organized and faster acting.”
Sweeps said, “The casualties have been, troubling.”
“And we’re certain with each member of our flock we lose, they’re recycled into an enemy combatant.” Freeman took a sip from a chipped mug that said, #1 Boss.
“Which is why we’ll take all the help we can get, traitor or no traitor.” Brawl17 growled.
“Guess your stance hasn’t changed, has it, Brawl?” Decker’s tone choking on its accusations Brawl17 chose to ignore.
“This subterranean refuge was a happy accident of a find,” Freeman continued. “The owners of this establishment were more than pleased to sign it over with as few questions as possible.”
Decker chuckled to himself, “Sounds like Ratzo alright.”
Freeman nodded, “In this space, we’ve already formed the structure of our lives after victory. Each individual unit training the rest to advance ourselves beyond our base template. Particularly in the realm of combat skills and practical applications. It’s amazing how malleable the human mind can be.”
Certain types of minds at least
you try training these feebs-M
Buzzed on all of their clone phones.
Manner grabbed Decker from behind and hoisted him off his feet in an excited hug.
“Woah, sacred skag, Manner. I missed you too.” Decker smiled at her, back on his feet. He addressed the group, “And speaking of the malleable human mind. My friend, Trip, and I have been working an angle to help you keep pace with those Biodroid frags.”
“What,” Sweeps scoffed, “Decker coming down from on high with another brilliant plan? The last time we listened to you, two of our own got killed.” He pretended to examine the blueprints for a broadcasting station.
Manner remained stone faced.
Decker mocked his scoff, “That’s not entirely fair. Especially since saving Trip gave us a key player in our corner to win this fight. Not just for the clones, but for all of us.”
It was Brawl17’s turn to scoff, “What, now that we’re in your backyard it’s a fight for all of us?”
“You know that darknet I whipped up for you guys wouldn’t be half as effective without Trip’s bio knowledge, right?”
“It’s always been a fight for all of us, son,” said Freeman.
“You know, I really don’t appreciate being called son,” Brawl17 snorted away a booger. “Especially since I’m older than you.”
“I beg your pardon, Brawl. We all struggle against our templates,” Freeman showed his palms, Brawl17 didn’t back down from his surliness.
Freeman folded his hands before his gray beard, “Now, Decker, I’m not blind to what you’ve done for us as a group. The darknet you built accelerated the solidification of mere protests into a bonafide movement. I know you had nothing to give but the goodness in your heart-”
“-And a block of creds,” Sweeps snarked.
“Okay, Sweeps, you can hold that salt if you want,” Brawl17 shot Sweeps with his eyes. “I was there, he coulda walked outta The Revolving Door any time.”
“You being imposing helped keep me in my seat,” said Decker.
“Decker, let me be frank with you.” Freeman stepped from behind the table into the center of the group, “We can’t keep up our hit and run tactics. Now, what I’m asking you, Decker,” Freeman stared deep into his eyes, “what you’re going to offer us, is this plan going to cost us more than we have to give?”
“All I need is your trust and time,” Decker said. “And some Matter Recombiners.”
“That’s not what he’s talking about,” Sweeps said, not looking up.
Freeman sighed with a look of longsuffering towards Sweeps. “You’re saying that you have a way for us to defeat our enemy. I want to make sure that this revolution is not compromised in the face of victory.”
He doesn’t want us to become
what we’re fighting against -M
Decker looked up from his clone phone, face showing his disappointment, “Uh, in theory, that’s kinda what I’m asking every clone in this fight to do.”
No one looked pleased by that answer.
“Sorry, I’m speaking in the broadest terms possible,” Decker backpedaled. “My buddy Trip and I got recaptured by RoPhar on the way back into Hollywood. They basically shanghaied Trip back to Ocean City to work on the Biodroid project, and they need me to shut down Gene Works Inc.’s rogue central VI, that tried to kill us.”
“And this is our problem, how?” Sweeps looked up from ignoring the room.
Freeman said, “Sweeps, let him talk.”
Decker began again, “In this negotiation, we gained access to the original Gene Works code that makes up the basis of the Biodroids, and by extension clones. In the process, we found something interesting about your biological makeup, particularly the chip in your brains that house template directives.”
“Don’t leave us in suspense.” Brawl17 spat on the floor.
“It can be upgraded.” Decker pulled a memory stick from his pocket. “This is the sum of all of Trip’s work on the Biodroid project, including my technical input regarding growing your chip upgrades, free of external control.”
are you nuts? I’m not turning into
one of those meatbot things -M
Decker looked up from his phone, “No one’s turning into anything, Manner. Like I said, my input is on here too. This will upgrade the wetware already inside you, but make it… more,” Decker expanded his hands from each other.
“That’s a nice beginning,” said Freeman.
Decker raised a finger, “But wait, there’s more.”
I have no idea how you talked us
into this -M
Freeman smiled at his message from Manner. He gave her a pat on the shoulder as she rubbed her skull, leaving her and Decker alone outside her sleeping space.
I can feel it growing in my head
through the painkillers -M
Decker grimaced at Manner and shrugged his shoulders in helpless defeat. “Sorry, occupational hazard.”
Manner disappeared to rest as a scrap of naturally formed tech took shape. The majority of clones were in the same state.
Decker's internal clock didn't match with his HUD. There wasn't a sun out yet, but underground, it could have been any time. If he didn't get back before last call, Roplaxive-Pharrel suits would come sniffing around Das Komplex for him.
With a yawn, Decker figured it best to do the goodbye rounds. He was alone. The rest of the tunnel’s inhabitants waited in the common area for their turn to take their upgrade traits.
Decker stretched as he slid on his jacket, checking his pockets for smokes. A dark body blocked the pathway from the tunnels towards the exit. As Decker passed, he caught a sucker punch to the solar plexus, and a push backwards into a side room. Gun metal warmed on Decker’s forehead, and blocked his attacker from view.
“Just had to be some big. Damn. Hero.” Each word punctuated with a hard thump of the barrel against his skull.
“Huh, I figured it would have been you or Brawl.”
Sweeps’ heart rate quickened according to PheroTone.
“What? Now that everyone’s getting an uprade, you decide to show your hand?”
”It would have been fine if you were a typical guvvy. You could have given us all slag phones and left, but noooo.” Sweeps tilted Decker’s head back with the barrel, “Just had to stick around, like some kinda good natured Robin Hood prick. Do you know what it’s like, Decker? Staring day in and day out at discarded limbs and pulped up bits of your kind, just being thrown away. Do you know what it’s like not just to feel, but to know without a shadow of a doubt that to everyone around you, you’re fraggin’ disposable?”
Sweeps got down into Decker’s face, never taking the gun away from his head. “You know what that does to a person? It makes them want to do anything, anything to avoid being the next shovelful for the trash heap. Even play nice with the people doing the trashing. You know what they call me? An old model. A fraggin’ model.”
Sweeps shoved Decker backwards, sprawling him supine on the floor. Sweeps got off his haunches and pinned Decker down by his ribcage. “Like I’m a fraggin’ clunker still able to run, but moments away from getting recycled.”
“So now you’re gonna shoot me?”
“I figure if I shoot ya, I still get paid, and-”
“-And who shuts down MIR/AGE? Roplaxive-Pharrel still needs that done,” Decker attempted his grin™.
“We can learn what you know after we cut that box outta your head,” Sweeps’ own grin was a question mark. “Though I gotta say, you were a gold mine of intel.” He stepped backwards with a kick, firearm still trained on Decker. “We get by with a little help from our friends, don’t we?"
“Do you really think everyone else is gonna let you leave after this? This encounter will still be on the box.”
“I guess I’m gonna have to cut out those skaggy little eyes of yours too,” Sweeps laughed in his throat, cut short by a cry of pain. His gun rattled on the floor, bloody hand still wrapped around the grip. Manner’s claymore dripped blood, making a checkpoint between Sweeps and Decker.
She gave Decker a hand up as Sweeps dropped to his knees, screaming at the blood spurting stump. She grabbed Sweeps by the hair as Decker pried the gun from his severed hand.
“What, you’re gonna kill me now? You and this fragging guvvy?”
Text superimposed over Decker’s ocs, signed by Manner. He stared at her in amazement. She motioned him to read it.
“She says she really wants to, but what’s the point.”
“If there’s no point, then let me go,” Sweeps struggled against her grasp. Manner pushed him to the floor and slashed his other arm across the bicep, leveling the sword at his throat.
“She said she has a better idea,” Decker looked Manner in the eyes. She pulled the bleeding Sweeps back up and out of the room. They led him into the great hall at the point of a gun and sword.
Ringtones and vibration sounds filled the tunnels as every clone phone sprang to life, triggering a migration to the common area.
Manner released Sweeps in the center of the amassed crowd. Decker found Freeman in the crowd of the sameish faces, bringing him to the edge of the commotion.
Freeman’s phone buzzed and chirped. He looked from the screen glow to Manner’s face, as it nodded back behind Sweeps.
Freeman read, “There is a traitor among us.”
The sound of a ringtone was followed by a voice in the crowd, “And here he is, caught by the same arm he has fought several battles beside.”
Two separate text alerts and voices, “But instead of embracing the bonds of brother and sisterhood forged on the battlefield, they have chosen to be a pawn of the enemy.”
“A tool in the hands of those who would put us all back under their control,” the chorus of voices grew.
A quarter of phones in the hive buzzed, “If it were up to this coward, we would stay their imperfect reflections, their arm accessories.”
“Their slaves,” Half the clones directed their voices at Sweeps.
“We stand on the brink of a moment of truth,” every clone and Decker read Manner’s words.
“Together. As one.”
“Ready to make our own destiny. Not one that was designed for us. We will show the world that we have earned our place.
Our hard work will be rewarded with our desires. But not if we succumb to fear. Not if we fall victim to people like this traitor. This coward. Those too content with scraps from the master’s table.”
“No more,” Decker was the last one to receive a text. His eyes read Manner’s text scroll across his HUD, “Sweeps, she's giving you a few options."
"Is one of them boring me to death?” Sweeps tried to wrap his stump in his shirt.
“She says killing you where you stand was option B.” Decker smirked. “A: you walk away, forsake your kind, go back to Roplaxive-Pharrel and hope none of us ever see you again.”
Sweeps’ pocket vibrated. Manner made a grunting sound, nodding her head towards his pants.
Enough clone blood has been shed.
No need for one more. -M
“Let me go,” Sweeps shrugged out of Manner’s grip. The crowd retracted from Sweeps. Silence hung in the stuffy air. Sweeps stood for several moments, his mismatched eyes scanning for a friend the crowd. Fixer and Brawl17 stared back at him in disgust.
One by one the crowd dispersed.
“I did this for all of us.” He cried to the emptying room to anyone who would listen. “We could have been safe. If we had just played along.” To himself he muttered, “We could have been safe.”
Life underground returned to normal.
It was almost three when Fixer pulled the car in front of Das Komplex. Decker gave him a hug over the center console.
“Weird skag tonight, eh?” Fixer said.
“Frag yeah,” Decker pinched the cherry from his roach and flicked it out the window. “Don’t you wish we could go back to just hanging out? No worries about anything, screwing around online or building slag. You know, skag like that.”
“Yeah.” Fixer choked up. “I still think about him, Decks. About Breaker.”
Decker sat in the passenger seat, unable to respond. Peace officer helicopters droning about curfew hours filled in the silence.
“You put a lotta thought into this plan, right?” a tear slid over Fixer’s faked smile.
“You’re gonna win. We’re going to win.”
Fixer sniffled, “You promise?”
“As much as I can,” Decker grinned™.
“Thanks Decker,” a sniff, “now get out.”