Stirring the Dystopian Melting Pot: An Excerpt from New Clone City
By Mike Hembury
Claire stalks New Clone City like her own personal jungle…
New Clone City, baby. Refuge for the quirky, queer and impoverished, the city is a melting pot of humanity. But with something or someone stirring tensions more than usual, New Clone City is simmering to the boil, and everyone will be caught up in the fallout.
New Clone City is Mike Hembury’s debut novel.
Claire is sat in the U, flanked by two black panthers.
We’re not talking Huey Newton or Bobby Seale here, although that might also be appropriate.
More in the line of panthera pardus, or possibly panthera onca.
Big mean mothers. Long sharp teeth. Twitchy tails. Glinting green eyes. A lustrous sheen in their satin coats.
Claire herself is also possessed of a green-eyed glint. She stares straight ahead, seemingly oblivious, but obviously fully aware, of her companions. She has fluorescent green buds in her ears, a shock of red hair, shaven on the left side of her head to reveal tattooed flames streaming backwards.
She’s wearing a tee saying “Kill All Cars”, black jeans and thick-soled shitkickers with a bunch of buckles on them.
The panthers are just overlay.
The carriage rocks to and fro, screeches in the curve, stops at Han Plaza. People move, get in and out, sweat, sniff, scratch. Stare at their devices. Mind the fucking gap. And mostly, just try to limit sensory input.
The U is a riot of input, a jungle of overlay and invasive personalized advertising.
Even if you just do it old school — no overlay, no augmentation — it’s hard to ignore the screens everywhere, vying for your attention. There’s an old guy in the corner reading a newspaper, for god’s sake. Totally analogue. He’s got his head buried in it and rustles the pages every now and again. It’s quaint, in a freaky, throwback kind of way. Claire figures it’s really just shielding. Cladding. Input reduction.
The guy keeps his head down, rustles, avoids eye contact.
Everyone avoids eye contact.
Most just fiddle with their phones. Worry their implants. Surreptitiously wipe the pus from seeping wetware. Noodle the weeb. Perform the spastic eye movements required to check their incoming on their spex.
But see you and raise you that most have their overlay muted or offed, just to minimize the danger of a pewomt.
That’s a Psychotic Episode While on Mass Transit, to you and me.
Claire is not most.
Claire is inured to that shit.
Claire is a full-on overlay junkie.
Although she gives no sign of registering zip, she has maxed the range on her expensive — stolen — state-of-the-art device and is taking it all in.
She takes in the Jehova’s Witness with Moses coming back down the mountain with the tablets, floating over his shoulder.
Like: “Where ya bin Mo?”
“Ah, just popped out to get me tablets.”
She sees two Salafis sat opposite each other, each projecting a mighty black-turbaned warrior with a long curving scimitar held aloft. The scimitars cross just over the rear carriage window, and below them hangs the holy book, hyperreal and blinding.
She sees an uncomfortable Nazi, with flickering subliminal images of torchlight processions, rats and Riefenstahl.
She sees a pretty guy with a big silver earring and nail varnish, whose overlay makes him appear entirely blue. He’s wearing a necklace of skulls and has four extra arms bearing, in turn, a curved blade, a trident, a severed head and a bowl.
And she sees Nerd Boy sitting opposite, who has nada overlay, but seems to be giving her the eye, evil or otherwise.
To start with, she has him pegged for a tail.
He’s like what, nineteen, twenty? And a black hole. He has lanky dark hair, spex, and some piece of retro blackbox kit with the brandname filed off that he’s actually typing stuff into. He’s giving away nothing. But she can tell that he is hyperaware. She can feel him looking away every time her gaze flicks towards him.
She can see the telltale ooze of fresh wetware from behind his ear.
Is he on to her, or just coming on to her?
Either way, he is up to something.
She considers the tail theory, then rejects it as routine paranoia.
He doesn’t look like a cop.
He doesn’t have that nark/spook/cop vibe that we all know and love.
But it’s sure as fuck unusual to be rigged up to the eyeballs and just, like, hanging there.
She hooks into the carriage surveillance feed and looks down on him.
He has nice hands, like a musician.
She can see his fingers flickering across some keyboard that he has nestling in the crook of his knee. He’s sat with one ankle resting on the other knee, turning his bent leg into an impromptu worktop.
He has a beautiful curve from his collarbone up the side of his neck as he types.
Get a grip, she thinks.
He is probing your defences.
He is calling you out.
She looks at him straight, eyes blazing.
She is about to say something when she realizes the U has reached Carlos Marx.
It’s her stop.
She jumps up, with a semi-lunge into the guy’s space.
He flinches back in surprise, and she’s outta there.
She comes up the steps out of the U and she’s just stunned by the sunlight, the traffic, the mess of overlay, the noise.
She stands there for a moment, taking it all in, thinking what the fuck, savouring her anger then letting it subside.
She ignores the little red man saying, “Don’t Walk,” and slides through a gap in the traffic. West down Carlos Marx, then sharp right into the Passage.
Under the arch of the People’s Opera and she’s out onto Richard and the Anglo enclave. Then right, into the B Village.
She pauses for a moment, darkens her spex a tad and adjusts the volume on her buds. Does a 360. Spins slowly around.
The beating of wings as a couple of pigeons flutter up to the nearest rooftop.
The harsh glare of the sun muted through orange-tinted lenses.
An old flatbed truck rumbling across the cobblestones.
A bit of white noise in her ears as they start to max out from bud overuse.
She checks her stats.
Something is seriously wrong.
She’s been tagged.
That nerdboy fucker has fucking tagged her.
Claire backs into the shade of the sloping entrance to an underground garage. She takes a moment to call up a scratch app and punches in a few coordinates.
Then she waits.
Nerd Boy is not long coming.
He’s moving cautiously, scoping the street out to find her.
He’s got a trace on where she should be, he can see her tag, but he’s having trouble locating her in meatspace.
He takes a step out past the brick corner of a sub-T garage and is literally yanked off the street.
There’s an arm round his neck, and he can feel something sharp poking up under his jaw.
“The fuck you up to, Nerd Boy?”
He starts to struggle, trying to use his shoulders to wrench himself free.
The blade under his jaw draws a little blood. His nostrils flare as he inhales the scent of summer sweat on her arm.
“Best calm down a little.” She presses his wetware patch with her thumb. “Don’t want you hurting too much now, do we?”
The fight goes out of him, he eases back into her heady pheromone-fuelled embrace.
“Better. Now tell me just what the fuck you think you were doing back there.”
Claire applies the slightest bit of pressure to the handle of the blade.
“Ok, ok. It was a tag.”
“No shit, Sherlock. But only the feds and the spooks get to tag people. Are you some kind of spook, kid?”
“Kid yourself, you’re not that much older. And no, I’m not a spook.”
“So, it’s just a black tag, is all. Just a hack. Re-engineered police issue.”
Claire glances out into the street: no traffic, little old lady pedestrian coming up from Danube.
“What about you?” Nerd Boy says back over his shoulder. “How did you project your GPS like that?”
“Sugar, maybe you’re not the only one can do a little hacking.”
Jimmy is returning home from his constitutional when he clocks two young people in a clinch in a garage entrance.
That in itself is nothing special. The B Village being a favourite weekend venue for al fresco intimacy of all kinds.
Not so common on a workaday weekday morning though.
Jimmy risks another glance.
She seems to be taking him from behind.
Then he sees the glint of a blade.
Jimmy stops short. Adjusts his analogue sunglasses. Scopes out the situation.
There’s a tall and mean-looking punk redhead up close with a skinny guy with long black hair. She’s got an arm round his neck, pulling him in tight. And in her other hand she’s got a stiletto blade pressed up against his carotid artery.
So much more efficient than the jugular vein, thinks Jimmy.
The woman hasn’t seen him yet. Skinny guy is signalling wildly with his eyes.
“Do you want me to call the police or start selling tickets?” Jimmy says.
Claire sees an old guy smart-assing on the street and realizes this has turned into a situation.
“Get lost, jerkoff.”
The old guy shifts his posture slightly. Turns the back knee slightly inward. Swivels his hips a little and lets his weight down on his back leg. Leading leg comes in with foot slightly raised. Shoulders relaxed, hands ready.
Claire recognizes the set-up routine for the Bai Jong.
Basic Jeet Kune Do combat stance.
The situation now seems to be some kind of cluster fuck.
“Call me old-fashioned,” the guy on the street says, “but foreplay looked a little different in my day.”
Claire knows now that there is going to be no way out of this. Not without a whole lot of nastiness.
“And you know, I’m all in favour of women taking the initiative…”
The old guy is still talking.
“But there seems to be quite a lot of, uh, bleeding going on…”
Claire feels the kid starting to twist in her grasp.
Not breaking away, just turning.
She relaxes the grip on her blade a little, looks out — long shot — at the guy on the street.
He’s waiting. It’s her move.
She pans back — close-up, refocus — to see Nerd Boy fully turned now, looking straight into her eyes.
Striking blue irises, pupils fully dilated.
Claire pulls her head back slightly, just to check the rest of his face.
They both blink for a second.
The old guy goes, “Yew, do you mind? I’ve just had breakfast.”