Thursday 30 May 2013

Captain of Industry

by David Stevens

Slam!, and he was on the floor, clutching his head, overwhelmed.

At the same time, he was standing, thrusting upwards with a great shard of perspex, a handy sabre grabbed from the rubbish strewn across the squat.

Felt the press of humanity, the closeness of so many bodies, their stink, the smells of cooking flesh pressed down by the low ceilings, the psychic shock of change to a mind not admitting to the first flush of middle age.

Simultaneously he was alone with the stinking fat bastard.  Ducked, weaved, feinted, then he slashed, and watched as the man looked down with disbelief at the contents of his gut discharging, the purple and grey slippage making its way down his front.  Felt the tremor along the plastic.  Don’t believe it, then.  Makes no difference.  This is where it all ends, an eleven year old boy sending you into the darkness.  A thought crosses the face, the eyes change, but before the man can yell and bring death swarming upon the boy, his throat is torn out, and the boy is down his rat hole.

Where did that come from?  The man stands as though he had never fallen.  His face shows no turmoil, no sign of confusion from his sudden fall, no emotion at living again his first kill.  Brushes his knees, shoots his cuffs and strolls on like he owns the place.  He doesn’t, but he owns so many places he is used to it.

Chinese faces everywhere, so different to the multi-racial slum he grew up in.  He didn’t care.  There was money to be made in Shanghai. Always money in a port city.

He scanned the scene about him as he walked.  No disturbance, everyone going about their business.  No signs of violence, no sounds of shots.  But there was something very wrong.  He was alone.

How had he fallen behind?  How had his men pulled ahead?  He wasn’t part of a crowd.  He owned a crowd.  They were all there to serve him.  He didn’t get forgotten. 

So many people.  He had said it to Chen.  “You’re crazy.  What does China need with extra people?”

Chen had done his angry head shake, like everyone was a fool, trying to annoy him.  He was fun to bait.  None of it was real.  Nothing from the depths reached the surface in either man.

“You know the old stories about labourers dragging ships, swarms of them like ants?  I don’t want them, I want boat designers and captains and technicians.  I want the right tools for the job, not interchangeable ants.”

“Look at them Chen.  They’re like ghosts.  White people like brown servants.  They like little caramel people cleaning up their shit.”

Chen dismissed him with a wave.  “Colour I can change.  They are like Monsanto stock.  People want clean.  Free from disease.  TB resistant.  Servants are just a tiny part.  This is the future.  We don’t need robots or AIs if we can impress skill and talent.  Take a servile personality, and graft on stolen skills and knowledge, in a strong GM body.  Knowledge does not have to die.”

“Where do you get the root personality?”

Chen laughed, a deep rumble from a large chest.  “Google.  The trucks they send around for the ground view of the maps.  They copied and digitised a lot more than they knew in the back blocks of India, Eastern Europe.  When it gets out, google trucks will be as popular as polio vaccinators in Pakistan.”

“So what do you want me for?”

“This is huge.  I need partners in other countries.  People smuggling.  Visa rackets.  We need to get the stock rolling.”

I’ll think about it.  Don’t call me, I’ll call you.  It’s a pipe dream Chen , but I’ll give it to you, when you dream, you dream big.  Stock phrases flowed out as he left, while yuan signs were rolling behind his eyes.  Chen was right, this was huge.

“And don’t fool yourself my friend.  Everyone likes seeing white people cleaning their shit.  Until now, mostly they could not afford it.”

He strode on.  His men could not be far ahead.

When the jihadists had beheaded President Clinton and her cabinet, he had not understood the reaction of an English industrialist, watching the newsfeed as their conference was interrupted.  “How could they?”  the man kept wondering, bewildered.  He knew the man was not referring to their audacity, or the reprisals that would follow, or what the man no doubt perceived as the awfulness of the deed.  (Impressed despite himself, his main reaction had been, how bad for business.)  He had been saved from his confusion when a crass Australian caused an uproar when he remarked “That’s a pity, I’ve always been a Chelsea supporter”. 

Only later did he realise the remark was directed at the physicality, at the brute action.  He had realised again his advantage, that his competitors were not men who had spent their childhoods beheading beasts and cracking open carcasses.  If you had spent years drawing blades across throats and severing spines, the only question was the appropriateness, not whether you could do the deed.

They could not be far ahead.  There -  he caught a glimpse of Randall’s shock of red hair.

Something was wrong.  He could smell his mother.  The scent of her burning, her uncoffined body on the pyre.  Though he reeled inside from these memories, he did not break his stride.  The stink of burning flesh and scrounged broken furniture, didn't that signify something?  What was that a sign of?  A stroke or cyanide poisoning?  Bitter almonds or burned pencil shavings.  Didn’t matter.  He forced the random thoughts away.  Something was very wrong.
That was when they came at him.

He killed the first man in an instant.  Reacted to him as he sprang.  He ducked, lifted his shoulder, grabbed the man’s head, and with a pop separated the vertebrae.  The man lay still, front down, face staring at the ceiling.

Acceleration was instant.  He ran towards his body guards.

He froze.  Chen had been right about the colour.

He watched himself walk away in the middle of his entourage, saw himself as no mirror had ever shown.  Peacock jacket.  Wrap round neck ruffles.  Crush orange hat.  His clothes duplicated.  Though he could not see them, no doubt they had got it right, right down to his ostrich leather boots.  A tenth of a second to admire himself, then he wondered how they had done it.  Had they got to his stylist?  He thought about where he was.  There’d be someone in this complex who could knock up a duplicate of any garment in 15 minutes.

Chen had copied him.  Spliced him with some serf personality and set him loose, easily dominated.  Chen ready to run the empire he had built, by remote control. 

Yet he had escaped.  He couldn’t be kept back.  Their plan had failed.  The second man reached him, and had his arm dislocated, his cheekbone crushed, but he would live.  Then the third, whose hand would never work properly again.  He ran.  He would catch them, see this usurper face to face.

The seventh, eighth and ninth held him.  He assessed the situation, and relaxed, stopped wasting energy.  They dragged him back.  He had escaped once (though he could not remember how), he would do it again.

The tailor’s.  The tailor himself standing at the front of the stall, watching the excitement as they dragged him by.  Perhaps the very one who had duplicated his clothes.  The full length mirror at the front of the shop.  Not placed there by accident.  He saw the reflection of his face, emotionless, giving his enemy nothing.  His fish white face, translucent jelly features.  The veins almost showing through.  Watched the face change.  Recognition.  Understanding.  Dismay.


He collapsed into their arms, all resistance gone. 

Not even real.

There had been no escape.  They had just let him out on a stroll.  Gave him hope in order to dash him when they took it away.  Set him up so that he could see exactly what he was.  Showed him precisely how much control they had, the risks they could take without fear.

Dragged like a dead weight through hidden utility doors, into the centre of the building, away from windows.  The core that was the real point of everything around it.  Pulled across a gangplank into the tower that stood separate from the rest of the construction, hidden from view by a real building that existed only to camouflage.  The walkway receded after him, leaving a moat of air forty storeys deep.

He was the copy.  A model, a tool for problem solving.  They’d use him to keep a step ahead in negotiations with the “real” him.  Test out strategies, see how he responded.  Role plays.  Work shops.

He was not grafted onto any peasant stock.  There was no servility bred into him.  It would skew their results.  He felt the strength inside.  He was an important investment.  They had copied him into a premium body.

His face gave out the hopelessness they sought, that they had predicted.  He was totally theirs.  They had broken him.

Morons.  Idiots.  His pirated personality, implanted into a premium body. 

He had no intention of escaping.  He wasn’t going anywhere.

Fucked if he wouldn’t be running this place within a month.

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