I'm a manipulative, rabble-rousing, anti-science hack.”

She frowned. “Anti-science? I wouldn’t go that far. You’re venal, lazy, and irresponsible—but you’re not quite Ignorance Cult material yet.”

“Your faith is touching.”

She prodded me with a cushion, affectionately I think, then went back to the kitchen. I covered my face with my hands, and the room started tipping.

I should have been jubilant. It was over. The revival was the very last piece of filming for Junk DNA. No more paranoid billionaires mutating into self-contained walking ecologies. No more insurance firms designing personal actuarial implants to monitor diet, exercise, and exposure to pollutants—for the sake of endlessly recomputing the wearer’s most probable date and cause of death. No more Voluntary Autists lobbying for the right to have their brains surgically mutilated so they could finally attain the condition nature hadn’t quite granted them…

I went into my workroom and unreeled the fiber-optic umbilical from the side of the editing console. I lifted my shirt and cleared some unnamable debris from my navel, then extracted the skin-colored plug with my fingernails, exposing a short stainless-steel tube ending in an opalescent laser port.

Gina called out from the kitchen, “Are you performing unnatural acts with that machine again?”

I was too tired to think of an intelligent retort. I snapped the connectors together, and the console lit up.

The screen showed everything as it came through. Eight hours’ worth in sixty seconds—most of it an incomprehensible blur, but I averted my gaze anyway. I didn’t much feel like reliving any of the night’s events, however briefly.

Gina wandered in with a plate of toast; I hit a button to conceal the image. She said, “I still want to know how you can have four thousand terabytes of RAM in your peritoneal cavity, and no visible scars.”

I glanced down at the connector socket. “What do you call that? Invisible?”

“Too small. Eight-hundred-terabyte chips are thirty millimeters wide. I looked up the manufacturer’s catalogue.”

“Sherlock strikes again. Or should I say Shylock? Scars can be erased, can’t they?”

“Yes. But… would you have obliterated the marks of your most important rite of passage?”

“Spare me the anthropological babble.”

“I do have an alternative theory.”

“I'm not confirming or denying anything.”

She let her gaze slide over the blank console screen, up to the Repo Man poster on the wall behind it: a motorcycle cop standing behind a dilapidated car. She caught my eye, then gestured at the caption: DON'T LOOK IN THE TRUNK!

“Why not? What’s in the trunk!

I laughed. “You can’t bear it anymore, can you? You’re just going to have to watch the movie.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

The console beeped. I unhooked. Gina looked at me curiously; the expression on my face must have betrayed something. “So is it like sex, or more like defecation?”

“It’s more like Confession.”

“You’ve never been to Confession in your life.”

“No, but I’ve seen it in the movies. I was joking, though. It’s not like anything at all.”

She glanced at her watch, then kissed me on the cheek, leaving toast crumbs. “I have to run. Get some sleep, you idiot. You look terrible.”

I sat and listened to her bustling around. She had a ninety-minute train journey every morning to the CSIRO’s wind turbine research station, west of the Blue Mountains. I usually got up at the same time myself, though. It was better than waking alone.

I thought: I do love her. And if I concentrate, if I follow the rules, there’s no reason why it can’t last. My eighteen-month record was looming—but that was nothing to fear. We’d smash it, easily.

She reappeared in the doorway. “So, how long do you have to edit this one?”

“Ah. Three weeks exactly. Counting today.” I hadn’t really wanted to be reminded.

“Today doesn’t count. Get some sleep.”

We kissed. She left. I swung my chair around to face the blank console.

Nothing was over. I was going to have to watch Daniel Cavolini die a hundred more times, before I could finally disown him.

I limped into the bedroom and undressed. I hung my clothes on the cleaning rack, and switched on the power. The polymers in the various fabrics expelled all their moisture in a faint humid exhalation, then packed the remaining dirt and dried sweat into a fine, loose dust, and discarded it electrostatically. I watched it drift down into the receptacle; it was always the same disconcerting blue—something to do with the particle size. I had a quick shower, then climbed into bed.

I set the alarm clock for two in the afternoon. The pharm unit beside the clock said, “Shall I prepare a melatonin course to get you back in synch by tomorrow evening?”

“Yeah, okay.” I stuck my thumb in the sampling tube; there was a barely perceptible sting as blood was taken. Non-invasive NMR models had been in the shops for a couple of years, but they were still too expensive.

“Do you want something to help you sleep now?”


The pharm began to hum softly, creating a sedative tailored to my current biochemical state, in a dose in accordance with my intended sleeping time. The synthesizer inside used an array of programmable catalysts, ten billion electronically reconfigurable enzymes bound to a semiconductor chip. Immersed in a small tank of precursor molecules, the chip could assemble a few milligrams of any one of ten thousand drugs. Or at least, any of the ones for which I had software, for as long as I kept paying the license fees.

The machine disgorged a small tablet, still slightly warm. I bit into it. “Orange-flavored after a hard night! You remembered!”

I lay back and waited for the drug to take effect.

I’d watched the expression on his face—but those muscles were palsied, uncontrollable. I’d heard his voice —but the breath he spoke with was not his own. I had no real way of knowing what he’d experienced.

Not “The Monkey’s Paw” or “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

More like “The Premature Burial.”

But I had no right to mourn Daniel Cavolini. I was going to sell his death to the world.

And I had no right even to empathize, to imagine myself in his place.

As Lukowski had pointed out, it could never have happened to me.


I’d seen a nineteen-fifties Moviola once, in a glass case in a museum. Thirty-five-millimeter celluloid traveled a tortuous path through the guts of the machine, moving back and forth between two belt-driven spools held up on vertical arms behind the tiny viewing screen. The whine of the motor, the grinding of the gears, the helicopter whir of the shutter blades—sounds coming from an AV of the machine in action, showing on a panel below the display case—had made it seem more like a shredding device than any kind of editing tool. An appealing notion. I'm very sorry… but that scene has been lost forever. The Moviola ate it. Standard practice, of course, had been to work only with a copy of the camera original (usually an unviewable negative, anyway)—but the idea of one slip of a cog transforming meters of precious celluloid into confetti had stuck in my head ever since, a glorious, illicit fantasy.

My three-year-old 2052 Affine Graphics editing console was incapable of destroying anything. Every shot I downloaded was burnt into two independent write-once memory chips—and also encrypted and sent automatically

Вы читаете Distress
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату