Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Black Sheep: A First Law: Override Short Story - Part 2

It wasn't long after his visit to the facility nurse that Bradley's shift was called to an end. After a quick change of clothes into his usual faded grey tshirt and mudded denim jeans, Bradley quickly left the facility and made his way across the open lobby, past the acrylic planted palm trees, and through the towering automatic doors, out into the dust filled air of Anchorage Falls. Ahead the city scape glowed with a neon touch. It was only six in the evening, and by all intents and purposes it should have been daylight, however a thick industrial smog clung above the city, leaving it's inhabitants sprawling in an almost day-time twilight.

As was normal, the street lamps were on full power. It seemed to Bradley that these lights were always on, after all, the city itself never slept, there was always a factory somewhere which required a continuous use of staffing, which in turn meant that the streets were never empty of one stream or another of travelling commuters requiring their own safety-standard level of illumination. Bradley stopped outside the Foundation's doors and fumbled with his jean pockets before pulling out a small, all-white, plasti-card box. Flipping back the magnetised lid Bradley popped out a small three inch cigarette, placed it between his lips and with his spare hand withdrew a lighter and sparked the end.

For a moment Bradley stood there, the lit end of the cigarette producing a faint smoke that wafted towards the still open doors to the Foundation factory. The doors closed suddenly, a bright red warning appearing on the glass panelling, informing Bradley that smoking was prohibited inside all Foundation buildings, and would be subject to an undisclosed fine. Bradley sucked hard on the cigarette causing it to burn quickly towards the purifying filter at it's end. In recent decades the design of these and similar drug-based dispensers had been drastically modified, certain political bodies were always trying to eradicate the production and consumption of such items, but no matter what happened, products such as nicotine based cigarettes, and other drug crazes such as the O-Cloud, an inhaler based device that forced a shot of modified Oxygen straight into your lungs, giving the user an instant, if not short lived high, was always profitable, and what was profitable was always popular.

Bradley himself didn't care much for cigarettes, but they were the cheapest alternative available to him, and one of his co-workers had once offered him one. After taking it he found that his other co-workers were much more agreeable to him, as if the mere presence of such a drug based tool proved to them that Bradley was not in fact a pariah, but someone who was just like them. It was because of this reason alone that Bradley had continued to spend what little disposable income he received on his chosen brand of cigarette. It was not the nicotine that he craved, but the feeling of acceptance that he felt from his co-workers.

Located in front of the Foundation's building front entrance was the employee parking lot. A barren stretch of immaculately maintained tarmac and concrete which at the current time was largely unused. Dotted at eight foot intervals sprouted from the solid black a single street lamp, each lamp cast from it a small ring of light which appeared to illuminated the dust that spiralled through the city more than anything else. After roughly fifteen minutes of brisk walking, Bradley had found himself in front of his housing block, number 91. The Foundation owned hundreds of these blocks located across the city. Bradley had always considered himself lucky that his was so close and conveniently located to his factory of work. The block itself looked like little more than a towering multi-storey dark grey concrete cube. Each cube consisted of eight by eight apartments, however it was only the top floor set of apartments which housed windows, and these Bradley knew, were reserved for the higher management of the Foundation.

Bradley's apartment was based on the third floor of the housing block, of course there was no lift other than the one purposefully designed to go between the ground floor and the eighth, so Bradley often wondered weather the ground floor apartments were more expensive than the higher ones as a result. On his floor Bradley stepped lightly past his neighbouring doors. He knew them all well, Mrs Firtrum who owned the sky blue door painted to look like a clear sky, the Rogtum family who's door was reinforced plasteel, even Mr Koreg, the Kratel who lived in 304, now covered in bright yellow and black police tape following his unfortunate death just two nights before. Bradley's door however was the standard issue dark grey. For a reason he couldn't fully understand, there had never seemed like a good enough reason to paint it, or replace it with a better model. After all, Bradley only ever saw his door when he was entering and exiting his apartment, it seemed almost redundant to spend time and money on something that was frankly a finishing return in regards to pleasure and happiness.

The inside of Bradley's apartment was no less basic. All of the original utensils and decorations were still in place, including the empty photo frames which housed holo-displays which read "Your Photo Here" and "15 prints! C6.99 only!" Bradley had thought once about decorating, but he felt content with the apartment was it was, the only people he thought would be interested in him decorating would be guests, and those were people that never visited him.

It was a strange sensation returning home every day for Bradley. He would look around his apartment, see the supplied furniture that was barely used, take stock of his cupboard space filled with rations for one, and then dismiss any notion he had of loneliness. He had heard others including the Foundation nurse talking about it to him, but it was not something he could truly express. Bradley knew that he longed for social interaction, to be around others, to help them and support them, but he did not feel what others described as lonely.

With a purposeful stride, Bradley approached his Mantic-Suite, a purposeful built desk and chair that he would recline in every evening and allow the digital world, filled with others, some much like him, but with many more almost as alien to him as he is to a Hydan or Kratel, to surround and envelope him. This suite was one of the few pleasures that Bradley indulged in, it's surface a glossy black with red trim. Normally these suites are built out of a variety of reinforced vacuum formed plastic, but this was not like the ones you could pick up from your local deck shop, no Bradley's suite was gifted to him by an old friend of his, one of the Foundation's Mechanical Designers. Sculpted out of solid wood, a commodity rarely used on Honos, it alone was worth more than his entire apartment, possibly the entire block of apartments. A few months after being gifted the suite, Bradley's designer friend had passed away from what Bradley had always been told was a form of aggressive cancer. Bradley never believed that story, he had known his friend better than most, and he was very much attuned to the health of those close to him, he would have known if his friend was unwell.

Bradley pushed the thoughts of his friend from his mind, they only served to depress him, and that was not an emotion he wished to feel at that point. Bradley reached for his suite's jack, a long cable which resulted in what looked like a multi-part phono-cable. He held the cable tight in his hand before closing his eyes, reaching behind his left ear and slid the cable gently into his neural interface. The cable inserted with a complete lack of friction, it glided into the small socket with as much resistance as a baby's thumb entering it's mouth, and for a brief moment Bradley felt nothing, no connection between him and his suite, as if he was as disconnected from Mantic Space as he was from his coworkers that he tried so hard to understand.

Reaching across the suite's smooth surface, Bradley fumbled with it's holo-commands before sliding his right index finger across an illuminated symbol, a circle with a line protruding from it's base, the universal symbol for Jacking In. In an instant Bradley felt a rush of excitement and pleasure, complete with an underpinning of fear, almost terror, as his mind began to merge with the Mantic Suite, and with it Mantic Space itself. He felt the chair he perched in give way, almost disintegrate into the very background of his own existence. In that moment, Bradley didn't know if his chair, his suite, even his own apartment, still existed. He was light itself, pouring through the veins and arteries of the Outer Fringe, he saw Honos from orbit, it's dark blue colouring reminding him of clouds before a rain storm. Ahead he saw Virtos, the moon that orbited Honos, on it's surface he observed small mechanical shapes as they busied the self collecting materials and minerals to build something that he couldn't even begin to comprehend. Moving further Bradley saw Krata Prime, he could feel it's populace, the rhythmic beat of it's people, and the firey temper that scorched what little hope for peace they retained. Further afield a he could make out the crystal spires of the Bastion and it's Hydan people within. All of this Bradley was a part of, he could feel it within his being and he joined with it all before pushing further, past the presence of the physical and it's limited Mantic interpretation, past the interfaces and heads up displays and deeper into actual Mantic Space itself. For the briefest of moments, Bradley felt like he was home.

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

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