“I’m given to understand you’re a buttonhead, Mister Reynolds.” Ryan sat back and sipped his drink. “Show me. I believe I’ve paid for the privilege.”
We were in the Adventure Capitalist, a bar dating back to when we still had an economy. The corner booth was a wood-panelled cocoon, designed for privacy. Even so, I hesitated before removing the wig to expose the cranial interface sockets. “Satisfied?”
He smiled, although the revulsion in his eyes was obvious. “And the hardwiring, it gives you a significant edge over a headset? It’s not just blarney?”
“Good enough to be ranked first player in Grumman Coldplay. So, if this is an unofficial endorsement approach ahead of the Seoul semi-finals, forget it. I know we’re firm favourites to beat Weyland Aspiration, but my contract is cast iron, zero loopholes. You’ll have to go through the team agent just like everyone else.”
“Your exclusive contract didn’t prevent you accepting my offer of a quiet drink.”
“A grand in cash just to show up?” Now it was my turn to sit back and take a sip. “We’re just two guys talking, is all.”
Ryan smiled again, but warmly. “In any event, this has nothing to do with e-gaming. It’s your, ah, affinity with cybernetic systems we wish to avail ourselves of.”
“Body renting. Ever tried it?”
I frowned, thrown for a moment by the shift in conversation, then shrugged. “Nope, half of a good night out is bitching about the hangover next day. Letting a donor body pick up the tab seems a bit, well, needlessly hedonistic. Anyway, what does that have to do with my interface abilities?”
“The body rental industry is at great pains to stress that the donor has to be willing, that a subject can’t be forced. No cybernetic Svengalis.”
“I’ve seen the ads. So?”
“So, strictly speaking, that’s not entirely true. A sufficiently powerful signal from a close-proximity broadcast tower can override any resistance.”
“Shit.” I downed my drink in one. “Body piracy? I can see why they keep that quiet.”
Ryan took another sip. “Absolutely. Now, behavioural modifiers, specifically loyalty protocols. Virtually an employment standard there days, and the Grumman support staff are no exception – so you’ll know what I’m talking about.”
Again, the conversation seemed to veer off at a tangent. “Look, is there a point to all this, or do you just get off discussing esoteric tech?”
“We want you to kill someone.”
I blinked. “Excuse me?”
“In the real world, using your sniper skills as honed in your e-game environments. I stared at him, aghast, which Ryan seemed to take as continued interest. “Using a commandeered body, a man above suspicion, with his induced loyalty bypassed by our modified broadcast.” He finished his drink. “Interested?”
I stood up. “Go screw yourself, I—”. My left corneal implant displayed a transaction pending in the ultra-private Gran Canaria account. “Jesus.” I sat down.
Ryan swirled the ice cubes in his glass. “Indeed. And that’s only the proverbial ‘half now’ portion.”
I wiped my mouth. “I can’t kill someone.”
“The experience will be no more or less real than what you’ve experienced countless times before, given your Ultra-Boost sensorium.”
“In games, man, just games.”
“We can place a suitable weapon at the scene. All you have to do is use it. Less than two minutes’ work for more than you’ve earned in the last year. We’ll provide encrypted access to the Absentia body-renting network, and your implants will obliviate the need to attend one of their salons. The entire procedure will be untraceable, guaranteed.”
I sat in silence, staring at the Devil incarnate.
Ryan smiled. “Very well, Tony. Let’s discuss details.”
I stood on a grassy knoll, holding a double tray of plants. There was a Steyr laser carbine concealed in the lower compartment. It felt like I was fleeing some nameless dread while rooted to the spot. Ryan had explained it would be a feature of my moral bypass staying one step ahead of the behavioural wetware.
Down the slope lay a large villa in neo-colonial style. I could see a man in an armchair facing the window, but not his face, given the angle. It all felt vaguely familiar, but nothing I could place – another anticipated side-effect.
I raised the Steyr to my shoulder and shot the unidentified man in the heart.
The world vanished.
The gardens of the Reich clinic were where I spent most afternoons. A man sat down beside me and smiled. Nobody I recognised – but these days that included everyone apart from medical staff and the Absentia lawyers.
He looked me over. “Not sure the new body is an improvement, Tony.”
I blinked. “Sorry, do I know you?”
He checked his watch. “You will, anytime … now”.
It was like standing in a hallway and realising there were many more doors leading off it than before. They all swung open …
I doubled over, retching, ending up on my hands and knees. He gave me a moment, then helped me back up. I spat, wiped my mouth. “Miles, Jesus. It worked then.”
Miles Rudd, the Grumman Coldplay agent, laughed. “You’re welcome, dickhead. But a permanent broadcast persona, Tony? Talk about a ball and chain.”
I managed a wan smile. “Absentia had to offer the remnant ‘me’ they found in their system buffer something so I won’t sue. I’m an embarrassing liability ported into some poor bastard in a persistent vegetative state.”
“Everyone wants to forget about this, Tony, especially the loyalty industry. The police investigation into your death is dead in the water, unsurprisingly.”
We sat in silence for a few moments. “I saw we lost to Weyland. It looked brutal.”
“Without you, we were screwed. The long odds paid out though. We’re both rich men, even after the cut for using intermediaries and interest on the original loan. But this has to be a first – a man killing himself and profiting from the experience.”
Miles frowned. “What’s funny?”