Friday, July 23, 2010

Misperception (Sci-Fi)

Quintus stepped into the sensory club and felt nothing.

There were dozens of sensory clubs on Terra Nuevo, but Inmersiòn had gained its fame from the intensity of its neurostimulation field. The images, smells, and sounds it allowed its patrons to create were the most realistic in the Systems, so much so that the club's bouncers frequently had to drag out customers that had lost grip of reality. But the experience required one's neurostimulant chips to have their safeties eased, the result of which was slow, but inevitable brain degeneration. The dazed looks and gaping mouths that of many of the patrons waiting to enter indicated that an empty mind was preferable to life without the worlds Inmersiòn let them create.

Quintus had never been fitted with neurostimulant chip and would have left it off if he had. He had business in this club, business that would require him to remain focused and keep his mind sharp. He ignored the line and walked directly to the door, drawing some irritated shouts and insults, enough that the bouncer jerked her head in his direction and tensed. Quintus saw flickers of color blend into her skin, indicated she had received nano-augmentations, likely from the very company Quintus worked for. She would be a fearsome opponent if one of the half-mindless people in the line attempted to force their way into the club.

"I'm here to see Mr. Rasa." Quintus said. The bouncer's eyes narrowed and then became distant, presumably while she contacted the club's wireless network. She was clearly heavily modified, and had no doubt been expensive if the augmentations were on Inmersion's dime. A high-quality guard for a high-quality club.

"Name?" The bouncer asked. Quintus reached into his suit pocket and drew out his ID card while he answered.

"Quintus Servilius." The card confirmed the same, as well as that he was an employee for Carrick Biodynamics. The bouncer's eyes went distant again while this information was communicated inside and then she nodded.

"You're free to go in, Mr. Servilius." She said. "Mr. Rasa is on the second floor, last room." She then immediately turned her attention back to the line. Quintus nodded his thanks and stepped past her into the club.

Sensory clubs weren't meant to be seen without one's personal modifications, and were thus fairly drab. In reality, Inmersion was just a large, square room, its walls and furniture varying shades of black and gray. There were lights scattered about to aid those who weren't visualizing their surroundings but no other such concessions. Throughout the club, people paced or sat or sprawled, lost in their own little creations. The club was noisy as they spoke and shouted at their visions, but most people used their chips to tune out external noises.

Quintus made his way across the floor, weaving around or gently pushing people out of the way as necessary, until he reached a well-light spiral staircase at the back, an unusual bit of real aesthetics for a sensory club. He quickly climbed it and reached a balcony along which were the doors leading into various private rooms, typically used by people who's fantasy worlds tended towards the explicit. There were narrow hallways along each room that allowed the club's employees to monitor the people inside to make sure they didn't damage themselves too severely and Quintus was briefly concerned. This meeting was to be private and he didn't like even the possibility of being watched.

He would discuss it with Rasa when they spoke. For now, he made his way along the balcony to the last room and touched the security pad next to the door. It slid open at his fingerprint and Quintus stepped into to face the famous Tabula Rasa.

The private room had two low couches flat against opposite walls and at the far end of the left couch sat a bald man with the tanned skin and rounded face of Terra Nuevo native. He lazily looked in Quintus' direction and for a moment, Quintus feared that he was indulging in the club as well. Then he noticed that the man was smoking a real cigar, something that someone making their own world wouldn't need to do.

"Mr. Rasa, I presume?" Quintus asked. The man nodded and gestured to the other couch. Quintus stepped past the room's door and heard a soft cough that did not come from Rasa. He immediately looked to his left and saw that there was a third man, much older with a heavily lined face and thick, gray mustache.

Quintus raised an eyebrow. "I was told our meeting would be private." Rasa smiled and made a small wave towards the ceiling, apparently telling the employee monitoring the room to shut off the camera.

"It is, Mr. Servilius." Rasa answered. He had a soft, but definite accent confirming him as a long-time resident of Terra Nuevo and Quintus eased slightly. "This man is the father of a friend, a former musician who has become increasingly deaf in the last few years. This club is now the only way he can hear the music he once loved. He will not compromise our secrets." Rasa gestured at the seat again. "Please, sit."

Quintus eyed the old man, but he didn't appear to show any indication that he was aware of the other two. So Quintus sat down and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and began his business. "Now Mr. Rasa, you must understand that due to your profession and reputation my employers would prefer to confirm that you are who you claim to be. Most of the identity indicators we have requested you have fulfilled, with the exception of one."

Rasa took a drag from the cigar. "Yes, yes, the name of the man who spoke to me initially. He called himself Cassius, as I recall."

Quintus nodded. "Indeed. Now that that's out of the way, I assume you are still open to our offer."

Rasa blew out the smoke and let it wreath around his face and obscure his features. "Yes, assuming you provide more details."

"Naturally. The job is relatively simple. We want you to become someone."

Rasa looked at Quintus and gestured with his cigar. Quintus took it as a signal to continue and reached into the other side of his jacket, drawing out a data slate and handing it to Rasa, who reached out, took it, and turned it on.

"The man pictured is Councilman Arkady Molovi from Daniilgrad on Threshold." Quintus said. "My company has an interest in expanding both the bioaugmentation market on the planet, as well as our hold on it. Molovi has been a key member of the opposition. We are preparing to have our lobbyists introduce a bill to the Council that would relax Threshold's restrictions on augmentation, but we need Molovi to be removed if it is to have any hope of situation."

"So?" Rasa asked, setting the slate on the couch. The old man grunted, tapping his fingers on the armrest in a vaguely rhythmic fashion "Kill him. Problem solved and with significantly less expense."

"The company, prior to my employment, attempted that in a similar situation on Terra. While the assassin was successful, he left sufficient clues that the company was implicated and the politician became something of a martyr." Quintus smiled slightly. "We like to learn from our mistakes."

"Indeed." Rasa said and then fell silent. Quintus waited for a response for several long moments and then raised his eyebrows.

"Mr. Rasa?"

Rasa coughed and looked back at Quintus. "I apologize, I was thinking. Perhaps you are used to dealing with less thoughtful people, Mr. Servilius."

"I see." Quintus leaned back and debated whether this was truly the person he had come to see. "Do you have any questions?"

"How can I have questions when you have provided only have the task? What do I do once I have impersonated Mr. Molovi?"

"We would prefer it if you used Molovi's influence to either dismantle or convert the opposition he has built up. If your reputation is accurate, that should be quite possible. If it is not, then faking Mr. Molovi's death might have a similar effect."

"And when I want to stop being Arkady Molovi?"

"Carrick Biodynamics can arrange a very convincing heart attack."

The old man suddenly had a coughing fit, causing Quintus to jump. It was quite easy to forget he was there. Rasa stood and walked over to the older man, pounding him on the back a few times until the coughs ceased and he settled back in his chair. He gave no thanks to Rasa and continued to not take any notice of Quintus, apparently thoroughly lost in his music.

Rasa sat back down and smiled. "I'm sure Carrick could arrange the most convincing death possibly, but I would prefer other alternatives."

Quintus shrugged. "You are free to arrange your own fake death or even remain Arkady Molovi for as long as you wish, given that you do not compromise my company's role in the matter. If you are truly concerned about us killing you, I am authorized to give you the full seventy-five percent of your fee upon acceptance, a substantial sum. Carrick would not benefit from not receiving a return."

Rasa fell silent again, the smoke from the nearly-finished cigar now quite thick around him. Again, Quintus waited, for nearly a full minute before Rasa looked back at him.

"Mr. Rasa accepts your job, Mr. Servilius." He said. Quintus' eyes narrowed and his mind went into alert, but just as he began to reach for the small pistol concealed in his pocket, the old man stood, far more easily than someone in his condition should have been able to, and peeled off his mustache.

"Gracias, Salvadore." The old man said to 'Rasa', reaching out his hand to the other man. "Cuidar de si mismo, mi amigo." They shook, the man Quintus had been speaking to smiling.

"Y tu, Rasa." Salvadore said, then rested back in his seat, the smile having grown into a grin when he saw Quintus' face, while the previously old man stretched, abruptly losing his paunch and all but the superficial signs of age.

"Come, Quintus Servilius." The real Tabula Rasa said, no identifiable accent to his speech. "We have much to speak about."

Ian's Notes: First off, the Spanish was taken from my own memory and an online translator so it is probably abominably wrong. Beyond that, I don't have much to say.

Though, in a just world, I would probably be shot for that title.


  1. Ended too soon. Would have likes a more dramatic ending. Interesting idea.

  2. This is the best thing of yours I have ever read. The story us ready to unfold. One thing I would do differently is have Quintas objecct more strongly to the "deaf" guy in the room. The TR could be tougher about it or he could waffle a little bit or something.

  3. Interesting use of the Roman-Latin names. Is the Office also drab and plain as the club itself is?

    Very, very nice touch with the old man and the switch,. Not too overdone, and not too overly predictable, though there was some inkling. I'd like to see more of this story.