Aphelion Issue 235, Volume 22
December 2018
 
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Sum of All Changes

by Tomasz Jarząb




Just two hundred million more, just two hundred million …

That’s all I can think of when I try to stand up. The lights are spinning around me. The manager shouts his head off and wants me to stop fucking around, because if I lose, the only thing waiting for me will a paper coffin. That’s what I’m worth. Nineteen square feet of cardboard.

“You want a better life? Then fight for it!” I hear in my auditory cortex implant.

My opponent is fast and fucking proficient. He doesn’t mean to lose an opportunity and decides to finish the fight with a single kick in my head when I am still down. Adrenaline booster remotely released in my brain makes his foot stop hanging almost motionless few inches from my face. Literally. I can notice strands of polymer fibers interwoven into his muscles beneath his skin. It will be a strong kick. Never mind, my skull will take it – my bones, reinforced with a titanium mesh will distribute the impact, but the brain … It still is just a neuron jelly, for the most part.

My perception is elevated, but will I be able to react on time? I want to shield my face with my arm. Unfortunately too slow. I am lucky to have the bidders use a lifebuoy and from somewhere under the curtain of switched off pain receptors I can feel the pressure on my arm. The movement is quicker than the thought. So I made it and blocked the kick.

I’m not waiting for another hit. Endowed with a ten-second nerve superconductivity I leap in the air and aim my knee at his retracted chin, before he can guard himself. His Mongolian head tilts backwards. For a split second it seems that he somehow managed to parry the blow, because he stands on his feet. It’s an illusion. His body doesn’t yet know it lost. Finally, he collapses and starts to convulse. I’m sure he won’t get back up anymore. That’s good. He was strong. Very strong.

The audience is pleased. The dramaturgy of the show increases the number of likes and the winning pot. In their eyes I am invincible. The truth is, the Mongol had bad luck. His audience bonus was used too early.

Old Colo comes to see me after the transmission.

“You were that close to losing. Tell me, what’s going on?” He sounds like a worried father.

“I think too much” I answer. “The cash?”

“Already transferred.”

“When is the next fight?”

“Next month.”

I cannot wait that long. I need to call Jimi.


*****



Just one hundred million two hundred thousand more, one hundred…

She swears that she always gives eighty percent of her income to Jimi. That she would never mess with Jimi the Pimp, because she knows what Jimi does to girls that steal from him.

I’m looking around her musty den. It’s just one of many prefabricated blocks of flats. Nine square feet, with a kitchen, bedroom and living room in one painted in pink. Social standard. Do you feel bad? Relax. Just put on your rose-colored glasses!

Jimi whispers that he is in a good mood and will graciously give her a chance.

“You know what to do.” He ends the connection with my implant.

I can feel his presence disappear and we are left alone. Although, not entirely…

There is a box of soy flakes and a bowl with colorful giraffes on the table. I didn’t notice that before. Quick infrared scan allows me to find a heat signature behind the wall. A curled up twenty-two coma two degrees. I open the bathroom door and drag out a snotty tyke. The mother tugs at my arm trying to get the baby back.

The little body is writhing in my grip. I can see fear in his eyes. Big brown eyes. I remind myself of why I’m here, how desperately I need the money. Jimi pays well, so I cannot stop. One push and the woman lands on an old couch.

“Do you love your son? Pay now or Jimi will find a different solution.” I play dirty. I play to win.

Her defiance melts. She gives in to what she has no power to change. Jimi deals with trade of humans, especially those not registered by the country, and the boy stays here illegally. The woman takes her card and transfers the money she saved by selling her body – flesh, skin and bones that she traded to Jimi in return for living in this sick country.

“You heartless piece of shit! Bastard! You know we’ll have nothing to eat, Nikko needs his medicine. We were too close to the explosion, to close to the explosion…” she whines with an irritating south accent in her voice.

“You’ll be fine. You’ll do what you need to do, for the kid.”

She purses her red lips. She has nothing else to say. What is left of her pride takes her voice away. She keeps looking at me as I walk out the door.

On the corridor I pass by four Chinese miners. Restless eyes check the numbers on the doors. Her first clients, first of many before she can turn the corner. I am thinking about the boy and the den from which there is no escape. How much will he need to sacrifice to forget that?


*****



Just one hundred million …

“Why are you so desperate for money?” Jimi laughs as he snorts a silvery powder. He then sits back comfortably on the couch of his armed limousine and allows the nanobots to heal his cocaine-treated sinus.

“Illegal fighting, working for me after hours. I am a businessman and I know when a man need a cash. How much do you need, pal?”

I’m looking at his corrected face, covered with red glow from a nearby brothel neon. How old can he be? Enough to hide his age under collagen supplementation, laser smoothing and all the aesthetic nanorobotics, that he keeps pumping into his body, five hundred million per gram. This must be the face of a devil.

“One hundred million.”

“Whoa, that’s nice. Deck officer, how many bottles of a real champagne would that be?” Screeching computer loudspeaker says something that sounds like five. “A lot, a great lot. Bogus… Bog, you do realize how much I value money? How much I worship the moolah?”

“Yes.” Jimi does not tolerate not being answered to. Even if the question is purely rhetorical.

“And I’m guessing you know better than to ask me for a loan?” He bursts into laughter.

“Yes.”

“And you will do anything to get that money?”

“Yes.” I have turned into a confirmation bot.

“Ok. Because I like you, I have a job for you. Exactly one hundred million bucks job. What do you say?”

He looks at me closely waiting for my answer. I’m not sure if he’s joking or if he really means it. I don’t care. I am far too close to my goal to give it a second thought.

“I'll take it. What do you want me to do?”

“Get dirty, Bog. Get in a really deep shit!”


*****



Just a hundred million more, just this one task …

Synthetic frenzy comes to an end. My sore muscles burn. Blood from the cut on my lips floods in my mouth. I am alone. Everyone else is dead. I killed them all. Twisted necks, cut throats, cracked skulls. No one had time for even a single shot. No one asked me why I am doing that. They wouldn’t understand the answer either way.

In my arms I have the parcel I just fetched. I hold it tight, as if it was my baby. But it’s just a file. A cold, steel file. I open it with a quantum key to make sure everything is in place. Jimi won’t pay me if anything’s broken. Especially stuff from Yakuza.

On a foam padding there is a little glass container full of formalin. I turn the jar in my hand so that Jimi can have a better look in the camera. A piece of nerve tissue floating in the liquid with every movement dances and releases small bubbles of air.

Jimi is very enthusiastic and says that everything’s fine. That this is what he needs to make this country a better place, create it a new and according to his likeness. This weapon will change the…

I don’t give a damn about his plans. My attention is drawn to the display. The promised one hundred million appear. This is my ticket for resurrection.


*****



I have a medical interview with a doctor. He won’t stop smiling. There is a lot of competition, so he cannot afford to lose a regular customer. He has uploaded a permanent smile and he doesn’t need to control it for a split second. It’s the sincerest smile I’ve ever seen.

He asks me if I’m aware of the risk. Do I understand that I am in danger of a number of complication associated with such intervention in the brain structure? There is a considerable risk of various dysfunctions, personality disorders and even death. Obviously, the blockades will be targeted, but still, there is no guarantee.

He doesn’t spare me any of his elaborate sentences, standard information, technical and medical gibberish which is supposed to make the patient believe in his expertise. I’m only waiting for the one question that he finally asks.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

Am I sure? Me? I have never been so sure in my life. I want to get mutilated of my own will. That’s what I want. This very moment! Now!

I press my thumb against the scanner.


*****



I wake up on the post-op. I feel as if my head’s been placed in a vice. The doctor shows me some photos on a tablet. Shattered windows. Chaos. People running around in panic. Smoke and blood. Rows of children corpses laying against a wall of a building. I keep scrolling and I come across a shot from a journalist drone. I recognize myself. On the photo I am running in a uniform, carrying a child covered with blood. I hold the lifeless body tight against my chest.

“What is that?” I ask.

“These photos were taken two years ago, during an unsuccessful hostage release in Cairo.”

Doesn’t ring a bell. I don’t remember being there.

The doctor announces the success of medical procedure.

My heart is flooded with the sense of freedom. I am thinking about everything I had to do to regain peace and tears start running down my face without control. Emotions get the better of me… I freeze. I am startled. Anesthesia winds down and a thought appears in my head – that was not enough. Still not enough!

I am looking at the smiling doctor.

“Doc, what do I have to do not to feel anything anymore? Ever?”


*****



Only nine hundred million more, Only nine hundred million more …

“How much you need, my friend?” Jimi answers the phone.



THE END


2017 Tomasz Jarząb

Bio: Tomasz Jarząb was born in Katowice, Poland. His stories have appeared in various polish electronic publications, including Esensja or Fahrenheit magazine. He thinks that cyberpunk is still alive.

E-mail: Tomasz Jarząb

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