Anamnesis [an-am-nee-sis] (n): the recollection of the Ideas, which the soul had known in a previous existence, especially by means of reasoning. -Plato’s dialogs: Meno & Phaedo
C.E. 2267, February 19
Sam startled awake. A tense silence hung in the air. He glanced around the darkened warehouse, the bodies of sleeping teenagers pressed against him for warmth. His best friend, Grant, still snored, but Sam’s heart raced. His skin tingled. Stretching slowly, he rose to his feet, careful not to disturb the others.
He’d had bad feelings before, but they always turned out to be false alarms. If he cried wolf one more time, the other kids would stop taking him seriously. Living on the streets was already hard enough but doing it when everyone thought you were crazy would be worse.
Picking his way through the slumbering masses, he traversed the warehouse. The building, once abandoned, had become the favorite haunt of homeless teens, hiding from the corporations due to a genetic defect that made them a target.
Grant had this defect, this Skill, and Sam envied it. Grant was so cool. Not only had he been the first one to befriend Sam when he ran away, but he also had the charm to thrive on the streets. Unlike Grant, Sam was just an awkward loser who could barely survive on his own in the harsh Colorado winter. Stepping over a pile of rubble, the hair on Sam’s neck rose, yet the building remained quiet.
You’re psyching yourself out, he thought. There’s nothing here.
As he made his way back to Grant, he tried to still his beating heart with several deep breaths. Then, a small red dot appeared on a far wall. It wavered back and forth as it swept the room. A fuzzy red line ran from the dot, disappearing into the darkness. Moonlight, cast through an open window, glinted on a shiny faceplate.
Oh shit! Sam thought. “Raid!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.
The warehouse exploded in a flurry of noise and bodies. Police burst through the door, covered in head-to-toe riot gear.
Why are they here? Sam wondered as teenagers all across the floor sprang into action. The CORPs had very little jurisdiction in this cartel-run slum city.
While several teens readied their Skill, Grant grabbed Sam’s arm.
“C’mon!” he shouted as the grating buzz of laser weapons pierced through the commotion.
Several teens went down, twitching. A net of red light formed over them. An EMP fizzled through the building. The lights on the riot suits flickered and faded. Moments later, however, they blinked back to life and one attacker fired at a Spark, the young woman who’d caused the EMP. The red net took her to the floor.
“Where are we going?” Sam asked as Grant dragged him toward the back wall. “The exit is that way!” He pointed behind him.
Grant shook his head, “It’ll be watched. We need to hide and wait them out.”
A laser net headed toward the pair. Sam shoved Grant behind a column. The net fizzled uselessly as his friend looked at Sam with a heaving chest.
“That was close,” he said, cocking his carefree smile. Then he pointed to a void behind a partially collapsed section of wall. “There! It’ll lead to the ventilation system.” Brilliant.
Raids like this happened all the time to the street kids in other cities, though the occurrences were far rarer in The Sink. Even Grant, who’d lived on the streets for years, had only experienced one other. Still, Sam trusted his friend more than his own instincts.
“Okay, on three,” Grant said in a trembling whisper, “We run like hell and don’t look back.”
Sam nodded, eying around the pillar. Dark shapes, the bodies of other teens, littered the floor, encased in those shimmering laser nets. Some were unconscious while others struggled, cried out, and cursed.
The warehouse swarmed with police—their riot suits flashing with infrared and ultraviolet lights. One of them held a heat sensor and began sweeping the room. As the sensor passed over them and Sam felt an unnatural jitter run through his body. His stomach turned. He held in a gag.
What the hell was that? He asked himself.
“There’s—” the person with the gun began to shout but before he could finish, an old steel drum lifted from the ground. Sam watched Grant’s hands work like a conductor as he sent the barrel flying toward the guard. Crashing into their head, the helmet shattered under impact and the guard fell, convulsing. Blood pooled from the cracks in the faceplate.
“Three!” Grant yelled suddenly.
Sam stumbled over his own feet as he bolted into the open floor. Pumping his legs as hard as he could, he followed Grant’s instructions. Don’t look back. Blood pounded through his temples and his lungs burned. Finally, he slid to a stop in the enveloping darkness of the shaft. His hands fell on a metal ladder and he began to climb. He hoped Grant followed, but at the moment he could neither look down nor hear anything except the echoing drumbeat of his own racing heart.
Sliding horizontally into the ventilation shaft, a face full of dust made him choke. A cry sounded from below. Sam had a bad feeling about it. Dragging himself through the shaft, he finally reached an open grate. Peering toward the floor, he looked for his friend. Blood turned to ice in his veins. He couldn’t move.
Grant struggled inside a laser net, kicking and clawing like an animal. Debris, broken crates, and dust flew around him in a whirling tornado but that didn’t deter the guards who steadily fought through it. When they reached Grant, one of them planted the butt of a rifle into his face. Sam’s friend lay still.
No! He swallowed a cry as bile rose in his throat. Taking one slow breath through his nose, he tried to stop trembling. Grant…he thought again shaking so badly, he worried the knocking of his boots could be heard on the ground below.
Meanwhile, the soldiers dragged all the kids into the center of the room, fitting hoods over those who still stared in defiance, though most had gone still—unconscious or…dead? Sam thought with a strangled cry.
A door on the outside of the building opened and the sound made all the guards stand stiffly at attention. A new person entered the warehouse, illuminated by a silvery shaft of angled moonlight. All the assembled saluted at once.
The man wore no helmet, though by the looks of it, he didn’t need one. A shiny metal plate, crawling with glowing circuitry, covered half his head up to his short black mohawk. A tactical monocular melded into his faceplate, while the other half of his face appeared human.
Plated battle armor merged with flesh on his torso, flowing over his arms—one bare and pink, the other a shiny gunmetal gray, fully-reticulated, that ended in a laser pistol. As Sam watched, the pistol receded into the arm casing and a blackened metal hand formed. A mech, Sam thought with a shiver. If savants were thought of as defects by the CORPs, then mechs should be considered abominations—the unholy union of flesh and metal. However, they bought into all the consumerist bullshit pedaled by the CORPs and were treated like first-class citizens instead.
“Agent Six. You have quite a group here,” the man said with a snakelike smile on his human mouth.
“Yes, Sir!” one of the guards said in a raspy voice, saluting with the sharp snap of armored glove against visor. “Twenty-three.”
“Twenty-three,” the mech repeated, “That is quite impressive. The doctor will be pleased with these new specimens.”
“Thank you, Vox Tristan.”
“Get them loaded up. We’ll take them straight to the Metro Complex for evaluation.”
Sam clenched his teeth with barely contained rage as he watched the guards bundle up the kids. Biting his tongue to keep from crying out, he tasted copper. Wiping the blood from his lips, he felt silent tears stream down his dirty face. Grant’s now-motionless body flopped like a ragdoll over the guard’s shoulder.
I’ll find you, I promise, Sam vowed.
The New York Metro Complex was a huge city on the east coast, nearly two thousand miles away. It would take a lot of money to get there and a broke street kid like him couldn’t just up and leave. With no Skill and no mods, Sam how no idea how he’d get to New York.
And even if he did make it, he’d have other things to contend with. XCGen, the largest company in the Triumvirate, held their headquarters there.
The place will be crawling with mechs, Sam thought. This is not going to be easy.
– 1 –
* * * * *
C.E. 2267, June 16
“Samson Lilly, I presume?”
No one ever called him that.
Except, apparently, the man with the handlebar mustache and plush burgundy waistcoat who now stood in the shadowed doorway. Sam knew that mustache. It had spoken to him before, though every time, Sam had fled without a response. This time, however, the mustache had him trapped.
What does he want? Sam cocked an eyebrow in half-hearted interest. He was more interested in the man’s fast-food bag. His stomach growled.
Living on the dirt-smeared streets of The Sink felt a hundred times harder without Grant. He’d spent a miserable winter—cold and alone. Many times he thought of going home.
“But this is your home now,” Grant once said after he’d told his friend about the beatings and withheld meals from his mother. Even now, Grant’s words stuck with him.
He had nowhere else to go. Even when the sharp knife of hunger shot beneath his ribs, he preferred it to his shattered home life.
“Go. Be free. See what it’s like to live on your own,” his mother had hissed as he walked out the door one final time.
He’d found freedom in the squalor of abandoned buildings where he sheltered with other homeless teens. Though these days, those buildings felt more like prisons.
Ever since the warehouse raid—the worst one from what he’d heard—the ones who escaped barely spoke to each other, preferring their own tiny corner of safety over the security of others. No longer kindred spirits, each teen lived for themselves—suspicious and afraid.
The bitter winter took its toll and without that teamwork, many succumbed to the cold. Those who remained fought over meager scraps of food or fuel. Rumors of raids in other parts of the city made everyone lie low, sticking to the underground as much as possible.
When spring came, heavy rains flooded those subterranean refuges. Sewers and abandoned subway stations became inhospitable. Whispers of even further disappearances traveled through the community on cracked lips. Sam was too afraid to stay long in any one place.
Keep moving. Always keep moving.
In addition to the loneliness, the hunger had become almost unbearable. A year on his own had made Sam lean and gaunt. Hardly anyone would talk to him, so begging for a the remnants of a stranger’s half-eaten hoagie or stealing a microcomputer from an unsuspecting mech became harder. Something hung over the city—darker than the ever-present pollution cloud—and everyone was afraid.
Which led him to dumpster fare—greasy, overcooked protein from the one-star Lebanese restaurant, soggy sandwiches barely edible when fresh, and half-rotten fruit crawling with insects had become his normal diet. The nourishment stank with the rancid fumes of yesterday’s garbage.
To distract himself from that ever-present hunger, Sam focused on his exit from this shithole of a city. He had to find Grant. And he wouldn’t do it by spending his days hidden in the dark, dirty corner of a warehouse wishing he were dead.
Aside from street thievery, Sam had only one other way to make money—hacking. A talent which was as instinctual for him as breathing. So when he was not searching for sustenance, he spent his time in dingy True Human cyber cafés and web breweries. They became his haven: Long days hunched in a cheap fiberglass chair typing away on his ancient digitally-enhanced computer, cobbled together from stolen parts. Even though the LED screen barely lit up anymore, Sam was irrationally proud of his DEC—after all, he’d built it himself.
He used it to stalk through the security tunnels in CORPs-owned cybernet space. Worming his way through firewalls and into secure shields, he was a cockroach made of bytes. Scrounging for scraps of cred, he put them into the virtual market. Invest. Win. Lose. Win.
He snagged only singles at a time. A little here. A little there. Can’t get caught. CORP prisons scared the hell out of him. If he thought living on the streets was tough, he didn’t want to know what they’d do to a non-meched teen criminal—especially one who broke into the consumer market and stole their money.
He had too much to lose. Make money, find Grant, he told himself over and over. After the fuel crisis of ‘62, transpo prices skyrocketed. He needed a lot of money to get out. He still had so far to go…
Suddenly, the screen flicked blue, and a message scrolled across:
TIME LIMIT EXCEEDED. PAY ATTENDANT 50 CRED PER 15 MINUTES.
Slamming his hands on the DEC, he cursed, “Fuck this city!”
A clattering chair startled Sam as two large security guards rushed up. “There a problem here, vandal?” one asked with a glower.
Sam jumped and stared at the men. He squinted, “The stupid DEC timed out too soon. I need more time.”
“Pay the cashier.”
“Well…I don’t—I don’t have it right now,” he stammered. “But I’m good for it! I just need more time.”
The men grabbed him by the shoulders of his jacket, “No cred. No time.”
“All’s good,” the mustache man said from the doorway. Sam hadn’t realized he was still here, “Kid’s with me. This should cover him for a while.” He pulled out a tapcard and entered a PIN. Sam’s screen blinked back on.
P4R0DY_1618, YOUR TIME IS EXTENDED UNTIL OCTOBER 2268.
What? Sam thought as the guards released him. The man had just paid Sam’s bandwidth for the next 16 months.
The guards nodded. “Thank you for your business…Sir,” one said, casting a wary eye at Mustache Man’s worn, yet luxurious, jacket.
Then, mustache man turned to Sam. “There, I helped you. Now, will you talk to me?”
Sam ignored him and went back to his hacking.
The man waved a hand in front of the screen. “You want this time? You need to talk to me.”
Sighing dramatically, Sam responded, “Fine. What can I do for you, Mustache Man?” Well-dressed strangers rarely wanted anything good.
“JR will do, thank you.”
“Fine, Jay Arr,” Sam replied, making a point to draw out the two syllables, “Why. Are. You. Following. Me.?”
JR narrowed his eyes and took a drag of a long, mud-colored cigarette. “You are not an easy kid to track down, you know that?”
“That’s on purpose,” Sam snorted. “You would be too if you were me.”
The man rolled his eyes dramatically as he set the fast food bag on the table. “If I were you, I’d also know how much this means.”
Sam sighed. This man had him pinned. He snatched at the bag. “Fine. What do you want?”
Pulling a datachip from his pocket, JR said, “You know what this is?”
“Uh…a datachip,” Sam replied with a roll of his eyes.
The man nodded. “I need more.”
“So…go buy some? Seems you have enough money.”
Smacking him upside the head, though not hard, the man snapped, “I need them filled with information, you clutterhead.”
Oh. “What kind of info?”
Sitting down on the edge of the table, the man continued, “Cartel info. Underground savant info. CORPs info. I hear you know where to find that stuff.”
“Sometimes,” Sam tried to keep his voice impassive, “What’s in it for me?”
He gestured to the DEC, “More of this. But also money. Food. A place to stay.”
“Wha—what?” Sam tried to play it cool, though his wide eyes threatened to pop out of his head, “Are you hiring me?”
The man wound his fingers through his shiny golden curls and grimaced. “Only if you’re as bright as the infodealers say you are. Which, now I’m not so sure…”
“Uh…” Sam shrugged. He had no idea what this man was talking about. “I’m not dumb, I guess.”
JR slammed his hand down on the table. “Yes, I’m offering you a job, you jackhound! Do you want to get out of this shithole city or not?”
“Yes!” Sam said, too quickly. The desire to leave The Sink burned in his breast, consuming him, making him twitch with anxiety.
“Whew. For a minute there I thought I had the wrong kid. But okay, before we make this official, a test.”
“I don’t have time for games,” Sam said, turning away.
“Hey,” the man grabbed his shoulder, turning him back. “This is important shit, you got it? Need to know if you’re up for the task.”
A wave of understanding washed over him, replacing his reluctance. Somehow Sam knew the emotion wasn’t entirely his. Even still, he said, “Makes sense. Guess I wouldn’t want to hire someone unless they proved themselves.”
“Good,” JR grinned and the emotion faded, leaving Sam feeling more himself.
“But I’m warning you,” he continued, trying to take back some of his bluster, “I’m not a fool. I’m no cartel toy, neither.”
JR chuckled. “Of course you’re not.” He patted Sam on the shoulder. “So, I need data lifted—security camera footage from Battery Mall. Can you get it for me?”
“Hack a mall cam system? That’s bytes. I do stuff like that all the time.”
JR’s mouth creased into a frown. “This is not as easy as you might think, kid. It’s an AI security system. Gotta be on-site to get in. Makes what you’ve been crawling through look like a toddler’s game. This takes Skill.”
“Oh, I got skill,” Sam responded, puffing out his chest. He knew the man’s emphasis on the word meant he was looking for a savant, but Sam played it cool. The man couldn’t possibly know he was a True Human, devoid of a savant’s Skill. Could he?
Whatever, he thought a moment later. He’d show this rich dandy what he was capable of, but he wasn’t going to make it easy for the man.
“Why not just go get it yourself? You’ve prolly got more power than me.”
JR held out a blank data chip, “I need someone who’s real good with systems. And who can be inconspicuous.”
Sam thought a moment. “I am real good at systems.”
“So…that’s a yes?”
Sam wanted to say yes even though a bad feeling crept up his spine. There’s a catch. There’s got to be a catch. Ignoring that inner voice, Sam focused on the burning anticipation growing in his belly. He needed this job. Or, more precisely, he needed the money JR promised.
Taking the chip from the man’s scarred fingers, he said, “I’ll do it.”
“Great!” JR said, grabbing Sam’s wrist and exposing his battered microcomputer. Another piece of stolen tech.
“I’ve dropped all the info here,” JR said, before Sam could pull his arm away.
A holo popped up on Sam’s micro with an address: JR. 3120 Blake St. RiNo District.
“Return the chip to me, full, and we can start our…partnership.” JR turned away.
“But I…” Sam called, “How do you know me?”
JR looked over his shoulder, giving Sam an arrogant smile. “Oh I know a lot of things—where you came from, who your father was, and…” he cleared his throat, “…Where they took Grant.”
Sam staggered as the man’s trailing whisper hit him like a maglev truck.
© 2020 Lyndsie Clark
To read more: contact me for questions on the future publication of Anamnesis!