Rai’s mind is in a very different body.
Black Ice (Part 1)
By Lydia Trethewey
Rai stares into the gritty carpet, on all fours in the dim room.
Her skin stretches tight over elongated feet and narrow hips, pink and hairless. It’s smooth, as if it’s just been skimmed of the top of a vat, like soft plastic. Her back is arched painfully, protruding vertebrae forming a ridge that carries over her supple buttocks into the stub of a tail.
A fabricated body, made to look like a human-dog hybrid, just familiar enough to her senses that her consciousness won’t reject it.
Behind her the man grunts, his damp hands clutching her hips, thrusting forward. He smells of mutton and cheap beer.
Rai clenches her jaw, no teeth, just vacant red gums and a lolloping tongue.
Clients could tell when they were fucking a program, Elliot said. You had to go real, get an actual human mind and then insert it into whatever flesh-and-blood form was desired. He’d grinned through the bars of her cell, grey teeth and oily skin, and Rai just wanted to punch him, punch until his face was red porridge.
The man behind Rai gropes around on the carpet, leaning his weight forward. A slippery metallic sound brushes her ears. The choker chain pulls tight around her neck.
She shuts her eyes and wills herself elsewhere. The last day she was in her own body, sun spilling across the back yard, washing on the line. The travel ticket stuck on the fridge.
The scene dissolves, memory unspooling, and is replaced by Elliot’s laughing face. She screams, the noise contorting in her throat and coming out like the howling of a dog.
Taste of sour milk and smell of ammonia. Rai opens her eyes onto the cold metal of the modified transporter, reality slipping and adjusting at the edges. Beside her lays the sweaty sack of the dog-body, used, empty, tongue hanging grotesquely from its human face.
The doors of the machine open and she glimpses Elliot, his back to her, lounging at the desk. White screens glitter with letters and numbers dislodged from ordinary meaning.
Elliot was the tech, the one who reached into the ether and pulled out people’s minds as they sped from one end of the earth to the other. Or at least he had done, back when Black Ice was still a ground-breaking technology and not a human rights crisis. Back when the particles of her consciousness were abducted.
As she stares, Spencer steps into the doorway, blocking her view.
‘Get up bitch.’
Thick fingers encircle her arm and yank upwards.
Instinctively she flexes the muscles in her neck where the vocal chords should be. No sound comes out.
Elliot turns as she’s led out into the control room, leering. ‘Did you enjoy being man’s best friend?’
Across the screens the coded bones of human consciousness flicker like an endless constellation.
Black Ice had been called the future of travel. Upload a person’s mind, send it as a signal to a new location. Scan and destroy the body, print an identical one out of blood and tissue at the destination. Virtually instant travel, like teleportation. Until mind-pirates like Elliot found a way to intercept the signals and make copies.
Nobody would ever come looking for her, because the original Rai Atkins was probably at home right now, peacefully asleep.
‘Messy fucker that one,’ says Spencer, dragging Rai to Elliot’s desk.
She stands uneasily, muscles unresponsive. Blank fury fills every crevice of her being.
‘Well another client wants the body, so don’t scrap it yet.’
A loud crack sounds from the transporter. Acrid smoke fills Rai’s nostrils.
Elliot rushes to the machine as it spits white sparks. Spencer looks on with mild interest.
Rai notices a small rectangle of light nestled amongst the junk on Elliot’s desk. Without hesitating she grabs it, punches in the letters.
SOS MIND PIRATES BLACK ICE
Broadcast into the ether.
She drops the transmitter back onto the desk.
Rai stares at the line of cable along the ceiling, a distended blue vein. Thinks of pulsing signals, senseless data, freedom. She bunches the damp pillow beneath her head.
In the low electric hum, Rai drifts into the void of sleep.