Such a strange feeling.
An internal resonance, void as though the once crowded house of my mind had suddenly been foreclosed upon and left in sterile disarray.
I strained to speak. With every ounce of effort I could find within myself, I summoned voice, but found myself incapable. I had lost all sense of my physical self.
The faint afterimage fading in my vision gave way to some semblance of what had happened. The great burning obelisks of West Central NewSec data. So bright it could have cast a shadow on the sun. I was a fool to take the job. And Now I had met with a fool’s fate.
Was this death? Surely this must be what waits for every man when he shrugs off the corporeal at the end of his trip. Had I finally left the meat behind? I had become nothing, and yet I felt as though I was a part of something - no - a part of everything. An immediate internal juxtaposition of helplessness and complete control.
In the physical world, my landlord would soon be banging down my door in an effort to collect many months of unpaid rent. He would find my body, still attached to the Hosaka rig and curse to himself before collecting up anything valuable and ordering a clean sweep. They would find my journals, and my countless half finished projects. Nothing fancy, just some half-assed attempts at fine-tuning haptic equipment and piggybacked softpacks. It would all be sold, or stolen.
It didn’t matter either way. I had become nothing more than data, destined for a small bay in a flatline bank if someone bothered to dredge my rig for valuable files.
I had succumb to braindeath.
Such a strange feeling.
I was still miles from the arena. The noxious cloud of exhaust, dust, and chemical fumes was illuminated; diffusing a million watts of incandescent light into an ominous off-white dome that loomed precariously on the crest of the mesa. Even from this far out I could smell the place. The sharp sting of racing fuel burned at the back of my throat. I wrapped a cloth over my mouth and nose in a poor attempt at filtering something breathable from the air, but it served to do little more than add the scent of old cotton to the melange.
I parked near the edge of the lot, planning ahead. In the event things got hairy, I would hate to have my only transport lost somewhere amidst the various highly modified units piled about the overcrowded space. I removed my camera from its case, and trudged into the haze toward the arena - double checking my locks. You can never be too careful around Gearheads.
The races were about to begin. A cacophony of sound erupted from somewhere past the gates. Cheers and chants from the crowds of Gearheads and Speed Freaks blended together into one solid drone, like they were summoning some ancient speed demon from the depths. It was deafening from where I stood, and I wasn’t even past the gates yet. Speed Freaks
There was a large mass of huddled bodies near the main entrance. Jacked up race geeks all itching to pay their fare and get a glimpse of their favorite driver or, if they were really lucky, see him and his racer explode in flames halfway through the race. Luckily I wasn’t aiming for the front entrance. I made my way around the edge of the lot, to a small gate marked Press and Vendors. As I approached, and tall, inhumanly skinny man slinked out from a small shack near the gate. “Whatcha need, friend?”, he slurred. He stunk of a combination of fuel, liquor, and chem sticks. “Press”, I replied, showing him my credentials. He unlocked the gate, and shakily gestured that I should go ahead. “Check in at the first booth on yer left.” I stepped through the gate and he quickly sealed it behind me, shambling back to his gate to watch the races on a cheap monitor.
Once inside, it quickly became apparent how much I stood out amongst the throng. To my relief, however, the vast majority was far too busy whipping themselves into a frenzy waiting for the first match to begin. The vendor lot was dense with a variety of peddlers, scamming their wares on anyone foolish or desperate enough to toss a few credits their way. Auto parts, tires, chems, tech mods. If it was crude tech, you could bet you’d find it here. Most of the junk was clearly stripped from vehicles, likely in the lot I had just left. I was suddenly thankful I had double checked my locks.
Suddenly, as if a great fissure had opened in the earth, there was a great roaring from the center of the arena. Low, bone-shaking tones, dissonantly harmonizing with the shrill sucking sounds on air intake. From where I was amidst the vendor lot, I couldn’t see the source of the sound, but it was not hard to identify. The races had begun.
Screaming around the track at ludicrous speeds, the drivers pushed their machines to their absolute limits. Each vehicle looked like some sort of freak automotive experiment. Great hulking machines, like great junk behemoths. Sucking the oxygen from the area and belching out thick dark exhaust as a replacement. It was like watching terrible metal titans wage war. Each turn a treacherous maneuver, certain to send even the most skilled Speedfreak spiraling into the wall in a flurry of sparks and twisted metal. Crashes were frequent here, if not encouraged. The crowd craved the carnage. Each collision was met with a roar of pleasure from the crowd.
There were recorders everywhere. Large network broadcast units perched on high lookouts around the borders of the track. Personal data recorders in the shaky hands of many spectators, no doubt streaming the events to violence-starved audiences inhaling their own bottled fumes and trying to vicariously live the experience on a vidscreen wherever they happened to be picking up the signal. I snapped my own camera to life. I had a buyer back in the city looking for exclusive footage of the event. I didn’t know the purpose. That wasn’t part of my job, or something I was particularly interested in. I was just there to get the footage, and get out ruffling as few as possible. So far so good.
The block of races ended. An indicator on my camera informed me that I had the requisite data, and could make my leave. I wasted no time doing just that. My trek back to the gate was met with various Gearheads looking to labor for parts. Asking about my vehicle. Offering to make modifications in exchange for transport back to their bago densand fugee camps. It was a clever guise, and one that was all too familiar from the Newsfeeds. They would entice a charitable person into giving them a ride, only to leave them bleeding out in the desert someplace and stirp their ride of any valuable parts.
I made it back to my van, unlocked the doors, and hopped in. I placed the datacard from my camera into a read/write dock I had installed in the console. It would analyze the footage and transmit the files to my client. My payment would be wired to my account by morning. Just a few hundred credits, but it’s a living.
It had been nearly a year since I last logged into The Field. All of my assets were still accounted for, but woefully outdated and deemed “obsolete” by the ever-growing community of Metadrones. That’s what they were. Devoid of any personal wit. Absent of cunning. They waged war tirelessly with each other over a battlefield that never changed. So bent on impressing each other that their real goal had become obscured over the years. They were no longer quarrelling over territory or prowess, but instead over who could perform the predetermined tasks that would please the Meta.
My arsenal was simple. 6 keys, arranged comfortably under my fingertips, and an old 2-button mouse I had found in a scrap sale. My monitor was an older model, but aside from the occasional flickering of the failing backlight, it was just as functional as any of the newer LED displays much of the community had grown accustomed to. In fact, my setup was likely the least substantial of those around me. It didn’t matter.
The horns sounded, and I was transported to great altar. There I was met with my team of various compatriots. All warriors in our own right, faced with a common goal: Crush our enemies, and squelch the light that they defended. As my feel left the smooth stone and stepped onto the scorched earth and ragged grass of The Field, I felt something in my brain switch over. A killer instinct long buried now suddenly thrust into the fore.
I was unstoppable. Each keystroke spelled agony for my enemy. Each mouse click, like the pounding of artillery, echoed the sounds of imminent death for my opponent. One after another they came, and in that same right fell before my feet. When they came alone, they died alone. When they came in greater numbers, it only meant they could each bear personal witness to the demise of their comrades. The comms relay was alive with their anguish. A constant stream of expletives and insults bore down on me via text on a screen. Little pixels of hate, that served to do nothing more that poorly mask the fear they could no longer stomach. I was like some sort of terrible demon, and they were powerless to stand against me.
There was a brief wash of terror when the screens went dark. Everything was, for a moment, quiet. For the first time in what could have been decades, my surroundings were completely still save for the slamming of my own pulse against my eardrums. All at once I was overcome with a mix of panic and relief. Cut off from the system I had relied on for so long was almost like being slapped in the face and shaken awake.
As my eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, I timidly extended a finger toward the power switch. My hesitation was met with a preemptive reaction from the main terminal. A sharp click and a whirring sound as the system rebooted itself. The monitors degaussed and flickered to life. The light blue glow was fluid as it washed across the desk, spilling onto the floor; flooding the small room and casting long shadows in places that had become piled with refuse over the years.
Seconds passed. Minutes. Years. Who can be sure? Then suddenly there it was. Cluttered with various shortcuts and iconography, waiting for my input, the console had resurrected itself. And all at once, I was back in.