Monday, 30 August 2010

I dreamt I met Bruce Sterling

Laminated nanotech, vacuum-fixed in resin and ready for action. Road stares at the package with its shiny holograms promising manufacture of anything from enhanced breasts to high-performance batteries for sports cars. Literally nothing is out of his reach, so long as he has the pattern, the molecular spray that activates and constrains, a kind of proto-shape, an imaginary framework around which to build. It will become the nanites sole understanding of the world. Without it the package is just a useless lump of flastic.

Road tucks it back into his jacket. Overhead the central line stretches out of sight, its lights gently illuminating the baroque architecture of the docks, casting a haze over the loaders sucking and pushing cargo through the low-g. He checks the street is empty before heading out from the alley, barely casting a look backwards at the two kids who sold him the package. If they have suckered him he can find them again. He has to get to the next meeting.

THe nanotech is a controlled substance on the station. The enclosed, tiny eco-system is jealously protected from any potential imbalance, but there are ways. There have been any number of plagues testament to that, like the one that killed Road's parents and left him as trash sifting the dump for recyclables. Road finds a tunnel outwards, heading towards rim. Climbing down ladders and stairs there are only the metallic echoes of his feet and the dull rasp of his breath. It gets colder. The light becomes blue. He must be planet-side, the reflected sunshine bleeding through ports to be captured by mirrors and injected through the fibre-optic infrastructure lining the walls to carry it to the hydroponic gardens and the homes of the middle classes.

He turns a corner. A lone woman is stood, all leather and attitude. The leather is fake, grown from pig cells and textured to look like the real thing.

"You got it?" Road says, getting her attention.

She nods.

He reaches into a pocket and pulls out a cash card. He thumbs the recognition pad, prepping it for transfer. The woman passes him a small glass vial. He has no way of authenticating this without using it. His heart pounds. He has been stung before. The woman holds up her card. Road wills himself to have some way to know whether this is a valid knot. There is nothing. He holds his breath and finishes the transaction with a sweep, his conscious mind screaming no.

The woman turns, walks around a corner and is gone. Road rushes home. Crouched in his little pod he splits open the package and removes the little block. He has put together a small pile of old clothes, ready food for the assembler. Shaking his hand opens the knot and squirts it. The liquid soaks into the gunmetal surface of the nanites, turning it to quicksilver. There is a flash, a heat that flares from it. He closes his eyes until it is done. Within a few minutes there is darkness again. He opens his eyes and sees the suit in front of him. A perfect replica, down to every thread. The fibres of the jacket and trousers repel dirt and marks of any kind. The fabric is self-repairing, the nanites embedded within it and powered by piezo energy generated by the wearer. A black-market knock-off of a suit that he could never afford and the ticket to getting the job that will get him out. Out of the dump, and away from the station.

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