by M. Anton Mitts
part 1 of 2
It had rained twice during the last week: first for three days, then for four. This suited Scott Chegg rather well. Rain made his work easier.
He drummed his fingers on the grime-streaked upholstery and peered through the window’s dirt; watching the interweaving walkways and travel-webs spun between the spires flash past in the permanent twilight. Across his lap sat a large, carefully wrapped yellow plasti-tarp, tied with red twine.
Chegg was fortunate and he knew it. Of course, he wasn’t as fortunate as he’d once been. He’d had a beautiful girlfriend back then; an apartment in the luxury of Old Camden; two robodogs; and the sort of face made for TV, complete with a set of teeth that illuminated rooms. That had been fortunate in and of itself, but the modern Scott Chegg — the Scott Chegg now sitting on the stinking transtube that ferried society’s dregs through the networks that knotted the city — was fortunate in a totally different manner.
He was fortunate because he happened to be alive — a state sorely lacking to the majority of people in his predicament. Many of them were unfortunate enough to lack the tender mercies of brutal and excruciatingly imaginative torture preceding their long, drawn-out, insufferably painful deaths.
In fact, many of them weren’t even lucky enough to be registered as legally dead.
Scott Chegg worked at the sprawl of monolithic hospital buildings lying south of the Thames. His job, as he liked to describe it, was surgical assistant. What that actually meant was that he passed the implements of surgical butchery from the trolley to the surgeon.
He didn’t tell people this, mainly because they asked him why someone didn’t just move the trolley a couple of feet closer.
As such, it was a bland, uninteresting job with copious pay and fancy job-description and well worth the time and effort he made in getting out of bed for it.
And then, one day, his beautiful life ended.
Or rather, one day, Scott Chegg ended it.
Scott Chegg’s face, that striking visage, like a mid-budget holomovie star’s, could be attributed less to natural assets and more to the gentle hands and genetic-tinkering of his restructuring-technician.
Chegg was a junkie.
A Nu-U Junkie.
In a city of 168 million souls the warped and crazy passage of new fads left more casualties than an out of control trans-naut.
It had started innocently enough. While passing a tube-clamp to the out-stretched hand of the surgeon, one of the nurses mentioned her facial-smoothing at a nearby beauty-clinic. She recommended it to Chegg, who pontificated on the matter for the full thirty-seconds he allowed for life-altering decisions, before choosing to take his part in some sort of surgical commitment.
At first he’d plumped for something slight — something tiny. A nose-retouch: “the gentler way of removing nasal aging,” or so the carte du jour in the clinic’s foyer said. And Gwendy, his beau, had been more than impressed at his new look. Then, a tentative step towards his next surgical adventure — that earlier mentioned facial-smoothing (“Half Price — Limited Time Only!”).
By then it was too late.
Within the month, Chegg had gone for denta-firming and cranial-glossing. It wasn’t long before his fingertips were regularly scrubbed of unnecessary abrasions and dermal-build-up by tender and flouncy (but always slightly beyond reach) beauticians. His cheek-bones were shattered by tiny pneumatic hammers and repositioned into a more pleasingly symmetrical fashion — a necessity at least twice monthly, or so the pamphlet informed, otherwise bone slippage can ensue. Six months after his first entry into “Nu-U Ornamentation,” Chegg put a down-payment on dermatological-lasering.
The slippery slope only went one way.
His infrequent sojourns descended into weekly trips to keep up with the latest fads — lime-green and French-Grey striped eyebrows to suit Noo-Vogue’s predictions. Pore-filling and sweat-gland replacement with this week’s top perfume. Cornea-colour switching...
By the end of the first year his ID had been replaced two-hundred and eighty-seven times. Gwendy, first excited by his interest in fashion — and happy to find him willingly change his teeth colour to complement her latest dress — became increasingly irate at his taking all the admiring looks. When his cheque bounced during a routine facial-remoulding, and he’d been thrown out of the clinic sans nose, it was the last straw (actually the last straw was when she had to drive him to an illegal alley-clinic, where they’d grafted someone else’s nose over the hole). She left him.
By then even that wasn’t enough to slow him. Chegg pawned his dogs, an act that left him emotionally empty but financially sound — at least for another three weeks of surgery.
It was about that time he realised that he wasn’t going to be able to get funds just by working his normal job. He needed something with bigger gains. He turned to flooble-guzzlin.
Flooble-guzzlin was the biggest racket in the under-towns that blossomed, with all the tenacity and charm of weeds, from the foundations of the pneumatowers. It was a game based on chance and guesswork. Literally. There was no cleverness to be learnt, or cycles to be memorised, or arithmetic to be worked out... The entire thing was developed on improbability and quantum non-mechanics. In fact, it was so random that the rules changed regularly, often during the game.
In flooble-guzzlin, a player’s blink affects the rules in completely improbably unthinkable ways.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the term “flooble-guzzler” means both: (1) someone addicted to the pastime, and (2) a foolish or otherwise ineffectual person — the latter especially amongst the underworld circles who quite frequently, and with deliberate skill, fail to take part in the game. And if there ever was a flooble-guzzler to have his name known amongst the underworld, it was Scott Chegg. Within three seconds of starting, Chegg owed seventy-three-thousand nine-hundred-and-fifty-two dollarpounds and six pennycents. The purveyors of the establishment took pity on his plight and he was fortunate enough to leave with only three spiral fractures, two missing teeth, a cranial haemorrhage — and an IOU to be paid within a fortnight.
That had been seven months ago; between then and now he’d found a lucrative solution to his fiscal inconveniences, one that — although not ethical, moral or even remotely legal — kept him out of the hands of grinning men who cracked their knuckles and grinned wide and grinning grins while perpetrating heinous acts upon one’s body.
And today, this fateful Oneday (that is, the day before Twosday), was the day for Chegg’s weekly trip to meet with Mr. Owen Munnie, the Butcher of Westminster.
He was also, as had become the custom in these things, scared to the point of shitting bricks.
The silent thoughts running through his mind were rudely interrupted when the transtube gave a piercing squeal of stung metal and sparks, brakes kicking like a steroid-enhanced mule, slowing to a leisurely 93 mph. Picking themselves up from the floor, the passengers clung onto the hand-rails as it slowed a bit more and then stopped.
A gentle tone buzzed from the speakers, followed by the moaning that might have been a man in pain or a public transport service announcement, as the doors dilated with more effort than surely necessary.
It was a very short walk to meet Owen.
Although Chegg didn’t realise it at this moment in time, it was somewhat fortunate that it was so short, as it meant that he wasn’t out of breath before he died.
* * *
West Adam Block, nestled like some underweaned runt between the dilapidated Burt Ward Conhab and the abandoned Alan Napier Commemorative Recreation Centre, was a massive example of neo-Freudian, psychosexual totalitarianism and city construction. Over three-hundred stories tall, apex coated in perma-frost, it had once contained every convenience known to the modern man. No inhabitant needed ever leave, as within its architecture everything one needed to live — schools, medical centres, cinemas, shops — could be found. A sense of belongingness for its inhabitants would occur, said its creators, removing the “us-versus-them” mentality that had sought to undo so many other social systems.
In reality, it just put a lot of people in one place and expected them to sort out their problems on their own.
Chegg noted the smoke and flames flickering from some of the top-most windows and pulled his coat around himself more fully, just enough to give the impression that he was part of the background ambience. It didn’t pay to be noticed by the West Malchicks, the block-youths who daubed themselves in black and masks and, leaping from the shadows like mammalian rat-things, set about people with coshes and fists screaming “CLOP!” and “POW-WOW!” with every blow.
He passed through one of the sets of entrance doors off the skywalk, a swirl of grit blowing in behind him.
Stepping gingerly over a few sleeping junkies (or at least, he hoped they were), Chegg sidled along the foyer and stumbled into one of the verticulators, which managed to take him as far as the thirty-third floor before breaking down, sounding an alarm, and informing him it was on fire. Then it told him, in its ingratiating American accent that maybe he should visit the diner on this floor — “which makes superb waffles, by the way, pal” — promptly failing to open its doors before apologising profusely and carrying on to the seventy-third floor, which wasn’t where Chegg wanted to go anyway, so he walked the two floors down and onwards to his scheduled appointment with fates worse than death.
It would have been somewhat more worthwhile for Chegg, whose life was miserable and unfortunate and generally ballsed-up, if he’d been allowed a moment’s respite to think about whether he wanted to knock on the double-thick, blast-plated securidoor that separated the Butcher of Westminster from the outside world.
But the world always had been a bit of a bastard.
A very large man opened the door. He was a very large man. In fact, the term large seemed to be almost anaethema to his size. Gargantuan came close, but it still lacked the bigness that Chegg couldn’t vocabularise. The man, the very big man, looked like the offspring of a prize-weight-lifting gorilla and an Irish navvie. He had muscles where muscles should not linger. His neck, what neck there was, actually had muscles. There were muscles on his muscles.
And where there weren’t muscles there were metals. Vicious, pointy, sharp metals.
Chegg suppressed the urge to release his bowels down his leg.
The man glowered at him from behind a roiling, multi-pierced brow, eyes seeking to crush what his hands were denied. He brushed a piece of lint from his black dinner-jacket and cleared his throat. It was like a mountain gargling.
“Can I help you at all?” asked the big butler.
“Erm...” said Scott Chegg, whose voice had crawled into his stomach and died. “I... erm... I have a package. For... well, for Mr Munnie. Erm... yes. I have a package for Mr Munnie. He’s expecting it. I’m Chegg. Scott Chegg. I have a package that happens to be for Mr Munnie and... please don’t kill me.”
Copyright © 2008 by M. Anton Mitts