Everybody’s got their drop protocols. They’re pre-set; no deviating from that course, affirm? You need ‘em to run green, keep you from frying your chips. Me, I run silent. I close my eyes and try to put a mute-order on the whole damned world. I did my inner self way, way down, so deep even sweet TRACI can’t talk me up. Some other CFCs have scanned me as dead sometimes. Those dumbasses liked to bitch-chat me over it, calling me chicken.
Those dumbasses are all dead now.
Not much to see on the way to a drop. Your average cut-rate corporate intra-system can don’t rate windows–windows is for sphere-jockeys and jump chumps who think there’s shit to see out the window of a spaceship. Pulled duty on a can like that once, in my life before all this shit started. Chumps’d plant their afts in cushy accel-couches and stare out big-ass windows for hours. You know what they saw? Stars. Coulda run that same action by poking holes in a sheet and stowing it over their cabin lights.
Anyway, there isn’t much to see. You can feel the can sliding down the well towards whatever sphere it is you’re about to hit, though. It’s like falling, but slower, steadier. Your guts set a clock running for you until they cut the bounce pod loose and the real ride starts. That action doesn’t run for hours, though, affirm? You got yourself strapped into a heavy-duty rig, body armor clapped all over you, with nothing to look at but the same chumps you’ve been stuck with the last few drops, plus or minus a few. Time was I’d chat–thought it a good way to make the op run smooth–but I belayed that shit after drop number five. Five was where only two of us came back–me and Viv. Viv ain’t a chatter, neither.
Across from me on this drop, though, is Uppinder. Uppinder talks–that’s his pre-drop protocol. Talking is his buisness–got run up for some high-end grifting back in Hubspace. It was a CFC or a prison in Calcutta; he slotted the optimal and wound up here. Uppinder is great if the op has diplo-protocols, affirm? If it’s a hot drop, he just ducks his head and pumps rounds in random directions. Viv posts him in the rear, mostly; he ain’t the type to pump a slug up your aft.
“At some point,” Uppinder is saying, “human beings became a collective lump of biomass, understand?”
I belay any response. I can’t scan whether he’s hailing me or just running the speech motors to see if they work.
“Individuals, or even groups of individuals, have ceased to matter. We have become a resource at our own collective disposal.”
Uppinder’s got this smooth, silky voice with a funky euro accent. He speaks stanengles, choppo, frenchie, russ, looney, and whatever lingo they cast in Greater India. Big brain. Tiny fucking balls.
“Right now, we are being exploited. Nobody cares, though, since the length, quality, or even facts of our lives have ceased to mean anything. There are some 26 billion human beings in existence at this exact moment; all of us–every single one–is replaceable.”
Uppinder’s high-minded think-chat is leaking into my inner peace. I can hear TRACI whispering to me various ways I might break his jaw or kill him with a couple nasty moves. I’m betting Uppinder’s TRACI is doing the same thing with me. I get the sense, maybe, that this means something. Something smart and deep, like Uppinder’s rambling. Got no way to get the a-ffirm on that action, though. I got no specs on how to operate on high-mind course. I tongue up some tunes in my earpiece. It’s Parsec. A song they released fifteen years ago in Hubspace, but it’s new to me. I wonder whether they’ve broken up or if they’re still touring the HubNet.
“With the absence of percieved worth from the collective species,” Uppinder goes on, his smooth chat bleeding through Parsec’s mean double dissonance, “We are forced to create value within ourselves. We act as individuals in spite of society.”
“Shut up.” I cast him, opening one eye. Uppinder’s not scanning me, though–he’s got his peepers planted on the display above my berth–the exact copy of the one above his that I can see–that lets you scan the telemetry data of the pod. We’re still a barnacle on the can, but not for long.
Uppinder smiles at me. His choppers are so white and small they’re like stars themselves. “See? That’s what makes us better than the others, Sull. We CFCs, we really live. We’re real, actual humans, like from the old days.”
The lights go red–real drop time. I close my eyes, but my brain is running deep scans on that last cast from Uppinder, affirm? Real humans. Really alive. I tell myself it’s all bullshit; living is docking your aft sphereside in a shit-top arcology, draining genned brandy and scarfing steak from an actual dead cow while sex-bots and pleasure customs polish your undies from the inside out. This? This shit is dying, not living. Dying one drop at a time.