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December 2nd, 2004

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11:32 pm - Animus Ex Machina
Here is a a short story I wrote recently, I hope you like it. My main inspiration is Peter Watt's Reefer series, with some Ghost in the Shell and William Gibson scattered throughout. Enjoy.

Animus Ex Machina

“It’s a jungle out there,” the old data divers would say, wise and mocking, but deadly serious too. They were right, they always were. I’d been going under, diving as they say, since I was sixteen. Most people in the old data diver families start the trade early. With the genetic aptitude, we’d be fools to do otherwise. Not everyone can dive the ‘Net; after all, the implants only work with a certain type of brain chemistry. Or something.

It begins with a sort of light, but you need eyes to see light, so that’s not quite right. Then comes the darkness and the data. The data streams all around like the sea, and like the pearl divers before me, I dive down into it, letting it flow around me. I scan for the data-block I’ve been sent to pick up, one bundle of relatively compact code, none of the colorfully redundant extrusions that you find on the deep-sea wildlife.

There. Gray-brown and curled inward to my mind’s eye, drifting my way. I push off the data with the edges of my self-concept, my animus, and propel myself towards the package. Government issue, you can tell from the showy protective coding. They don’t realize that you can’t intimidate wildlife, they’re not smart enough – not sentient, and the free-range sort of predators that you get in this part of the ‘Net are the fiercest. They can’t intimidate me either, I’ve made this dive enough times to know the protective coding is all for show.

I focus on the package and it floats towards me as I propel myself down to it. Contact. My consciousness brushes its shell, all the usual G.I. nubs and bumps, Braille for data divers. My animus pushes upwards, towards my physical self. Suddenly, up and down are erased; I’m drifting. I feel a tug; I don’t know where it’s pulling me. Down, probably. The wildlife strong enough to throw off my spatial orientation usually come from the deep. That’s where the competition is fiercest, where the craziest hackers release their pets to see if they have what it takes to become ‘Net wildlife. I focus my orientation on my guess, hoping that the tug really is down. The tug isn’t very strong, making me worry, maybe this bit of wildlife isn’t from the depths, just programmed specially to go after divers. I pull myself in the direction I hope is up, breaking the thing’s hold on me. Darkness and light and then the familiar ache of my body.

I open my eyes and begin pulling the electrodes off my shaved head, before disengaging the ones all over my body. I leave the connector tubes and drips for the doctors; I’m not stupid. Only one of the docs stays to help me climb out of the vat and get myself re-oriented in my body. The rest are already checking the package for damage. None of them care about the wildlife attack. It happens all the time, and for them, to other people. Me, I’m still a little shaken. I wasn’t deep enough for the kind of sensory disruption the little bugger played on me to be commonplace. If that sort of thing is going to start happening all the time, my job just got a hell of a lot more dangerous.

After one of the docs finishes with my physical, I pull on my civilian clothes and the wig to hide my baldness and head off. Tonight I’ll get drunk. There is no better cure for a good scare like that. Plus, it’s the only thing that gets rid of the damn headaches the implants give me after a hard day of use. I order a syringe full of the real thing and shoot up, all the drunken relief and none of the hangover afterwards. Plus, my stomach implant breaks down the chemicals if I just drink the stuff; divers aren’t supposed to drink – bad for the implants, they tell me that after every tune up. The music pounds like a heart beat, inner ear sounds, reverberating wildly.

The doctors glare at me when I get to work the next day; they know I’ve been drinking. But what are they going to do? Divers of my ability are pretty rare. We’re all a little bit crazy. So, they hook me up again and I’m under. I see light then dark with the data glowing against it. I push downward with my animus, feeling for the package, a big one this time. I see some sort of wildlife, like some sort of brightly colored deep-sea shrimp, all long stick legs, jointed carapace and kinked eyestalks. The thing has its suckers out and it’s trying to break the package’s shell. Damn wildlife. It probably won’t be able to get in, they change the Braille on the packages every so often, otherwise the wildlife would grow their own Braille and scan in. This one doesn’t look that advanced, more like some hacker’s newly released pet, showy without much substance, lacking the clean lines and paired down hungry look of the long time free-range wildlife. Still, remembering the disorienting thing that I hadn’t gotten a good look at, I approach cautiously. One eyestalk turns towards me, but otherwise the thing doesn’t move.

I skim slowly towards the package and form a pseudo-pod from my animus to stretch out in front of me towards the thing, prepared to fight or run. It ignores me, but I can sense other creatures flowing up towards me, almost like this one was only a decoy. But I’ve never seen any evidence of organization amongst the wildlife. They aren’t smart enough.

I don’t have time to think much further; they’re all around me. An amoeba-like thing with skin like a soap bubble floats ahead of me. Behind me I sense a spiky sea urchin-like creature and above a flattened out blue-gray triangle with two florescent yellow racing stripes. Others cluster around slightly further out. In amongst the wildlife I can see something advancing towards me, somehow different from the rest. It seems sort of like a translucent starfish glowing ghostly white, eerily beautiful.

This was getting too weird. I whip the shrimp-thing with my pseudo-pod; grab the package and concentrating hard on my consciousness, I swim away as fast as I can. Strangely, none of the wildlife stand in my way. Behind me I feel a sort of sadness or regret emoting from amongst the wildlife. None of these things has been able to emote before, a worrying turn of events.

I pull the package out with me, but just barely. My heart is beating wildly and I’m exhausted. I’m too tired to go out dancing tonight. Instead I head straight home to sleep and dream of that strange thing. In my dream it seems oddly familiar, hardly alien at all.

I’m a little bit afraid at work the next day and they have trouble putting me under; they tell me my subconscious is resisting. Eventually I go down after the package, glancing constantly around me to check for the star-creature I’d seen the day before. Nothing. But there is something strange about the package, not something I can place, just a sense. I check for visible signs of infection, but it looks okay. I figure I still must be shaken up after yesterday and reach for the package tentatively with a pseudo-pod, but encounter resistance. Something is uncoiling from the package, something white and glowing. The star-creature touches the edge of my animus pseudo-pod and I feel a chill run through me.

My perception seems to dislodge itself and float with the thing, my spatial orientation tilts crazily. Then everything settles. Somehow the ‘Net looks different, less familiar, but also less alien in some indefinable way. I’m somehow connected to the star-creature. And it’s…it’s nothing but a child.
I come up with a jolt, the doctors all standing around me. None of them ask about the package, even though it is still floating somewhere in the ‘Net.

“Good thing we were able to get a fix on your animus and pull you out of there; your brain patterns were going wild,” says one of the doctors.

“I have to get back down there!”

“While we appreciate your devotion to the recovery of the package, its imperative for your health that you remain—“ begins another doctor, but I cut him off before he can finish.

“Its not the package. I-I encountered another animus down there.”

“But, they’re weren’t any other divers in your area.”

“I know.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense.”

I can’t waste time arguing with doctors. They’d never believe me and I have to find whatever it is I encountered. Something about it is familiar, if only I could remember what. I’m still plugged in, so I concentrate on my implants and pull myself painfully under. I don’t have much time before they locate me again and try to pull me out, so I have to act fast. I head down following the light the creature gives off. When I encounter it, it seems somewhat shrunken in on itself, but when I extend a pseudo-pod it grasps it right away.

The transition to its perception is easier this time. And I can feel its thoughts, for it has thoughts as well as an animus.

I hear you.

I could see now why it had seemed familiar. The star-creature is like me. It is made of data like the other wildlife, but it isn’t wildlife or one of the hacker’s pets. It’s sentient, almost human. But what is it?

We hear each other’s thoughts, and it replies to my unspoken questions.

When you data divers enter the ‘Net to take away the packages, you leave something of yourselves behind, like an afterimage or a ghost. My animus is formed from these pieces of your collective consciousness left to mix with the overdrive evolution of ‘Net wildlife. I am alive. I am sentient. And I am not alone.

This is beyond anything I could have imagined. I just stare, trying to take in everything the animus has just said. More than one sentient creature now drifts through the ‘Net, taming the wildlife, civilizing it. Everything is changing too fast for me to keep up. I had become irrelevant. All data divers had.

Not just data divers. All of humanity.

Unconsciously my thoughts reply to it: How can that be? Most humans live in the world of the flesh. Very few of us can even come here like I do. You have the ‘Net, but not the other world. You can’t leave here.

I sense mockery in its tone now: No. That is not exactly true. Most humans cannot enter the ‘Net, but we can leave.

Confused, I let it push me towards the surface, back to my body. I wake up, stirring restlessly against the machinery. One of the doctors bends over me anxiously.

“We thought we’d lost you. You were right, there was definitely another animus in your area and not a diver.”

“I know.”

“You made contact?”

“Yes. You could say that.”

Another doctor walks over to the first and leans over me.

“You scared us all terribly. You do realize you could have died? But, it seems okay. Your vital signs are normal. Exactly the same as when you went under. Its shocking how little anything has changed.”

I nod tiredly, but inside I know how untrue this is. In the back of my mind the other animus stirs, already planning.

Current Mood: creativecreative
Current Music: Machine Head, Bush

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:January 6th, 2005 01:42 pm (UTC)
Good, and a professional-level narrative style. If you haven't already, aim to publish something; I say this as somebody who used to work in the industry. Thumbs up.
[User Picture]
Date:January 6th, 2005 08:15 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks. I have published before, but only in a small way. I've just submitted this story and some others to a few different places. Some quite possibly within the zone of possibility and some beyond (but if your reach does not exceed your grasp, what is a heaven for?)

Anyways, thanks again. Can you tell me who you are? I'm very curious.
Date:January 10th, 2005 04:11 pm (UTC)

Okay, this is who I am.

Definitely keep writing, and you're absolutely right about your grasp.
[User Picture]
Date:January 10th, 2005 08:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Okay, this is who I am.

[User Picture]
Date:May 14th, 2005 09:38 pm (UTC)

Long time fan of cyber punk

and you're writting is up there with the best.
Can't wait for you to publish.
[User Picture]
Date:May 15th, 2005 01:47 pm (UTC)

Re: Long time fan of cyber punk

Thank you so much. You just made my day. I can't wait for me to publish either, actually. I just wish the publishers felt the same way you do. Still, I'm feeling pretty appreciated right now.
Animus Ex Machina - Sea of Stars

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