Truth Is Sin

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PREVIOUS: The Revelation

FIRST: The Chosen Few

Alliott and I do not get right to the shagging. She tells me that as soon as my ribs tape themselves back together we can shag. But right now I need booze, bed rest — and to explain what in the hell was going on with Natasha. Which is, admittedly, a much more intimate way to spend time with someone.

But I don't want to be intimate. I want my back blown out by a girl who roller derbies with her clones.

Instead, Alliott goes out to retrieve Alex's body. I relay all the sordid details of my failed relationship over the phone. When she returns, we spend the rest of the night researching Natasha Tokyopop in one of the bunkrooms that KMZ offers its members. Alliott's fancy laptop lets her access information from other realities, so we go on an interdimensional web surf and dig up as much as we can on her and her group, the Chicago Wraiths. Things have changed since I left home.

When I say 'home', I don't mean 'house'. I mean 'universe'. I mentioned this way back when, but I left Natasha by physically leaving my home reality and fleeing here. This universe is more primitive than my original — for whatever reason, the government keeps a tight lid on the occult. Which is just fine by me. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed woman is queen.

But where I'm going, I'm not queen anymore. I'm barely even a pawn. My only hope is to make it to the other side of the board, and to get there I'll need as much dirt as I can dig up about Natasha. And these are the facts.

Fact: Chappell Wraith Securities is a subsidiary of Wraith Enterprises, a veritable conglomerate with its hands in private security, aerospace and demonic engineering, and Moon mining. Fact: Wraith Enterprises are based on the moon, and can only be reached via Way or shuttle from a space elevator. Fact: Wraith Enterprises have built a space elevator.

It's all very space-age and fancy — and a far cry from the shit we used to get up to. That moonbase used to be a moon coven. The space elevator didn't exist. We spent our time figuring out how to dunk on cops, not privatize them. But that was a long time ago. If I know Natasha, she's set up all manner of counter-spells to ensure that I can't get there by magical means. I'll have to do it the old-fashioned way — or at least, as old-fashioned as my home gets.

Fact: The space elevator is utterly inhospitable to human beings; the G-forces caused by the sheer speed of travel would turn me into jelly. Fact: Robots make the journey fairly often, performing repairs or otherwise overseeing the function of the elevator. Conclusion: If I want to reach the moon, I'll need to be a robot. Or something mostly robot.

Unfortunately, I'm mostly human.

This will have to change. Which is a whole bundle of problems on its own, as the Inside Man helpfully points out (by hijacking my vocal chords to voice his opinions). It's not the augmentations themselves I'm worried about. Once I have my heart back, I have a half-dozen different formulas I can use to regenerate my fleshy bod. The problem is getting them in the first place.

There are three legitimate — well, semi-legitimate — sources for augments: Anderson Robotics, the Servants of the Silicon Nornir, or one of the underground Maxwellist clinics. Anderson charges a fortune, and if I try to jailbreak so much as a finger it's likely to blow up and take the whole arm with it. If I let the Servants get ahold of my biometrics, I might as well just walk into prison. And if I get upgraded at a Maxwellist clinic, they'll fill my brain with so much scripture there won't be room for me.

There's no shortage of illegitimate augment rings, but most of them are janky as fuck. If I just went to any old back-alley doctor I'd be as likely to get a perfect full-body transplant as my organs harvested and brain wired to a crypto-mining rig. That leaves exactly one option: Farhan Jahaniam. Then I remember that I beat Farhan to death with his own arm a few months ago.

I'm stumped.

"MachineGod," Alliott says. "You could see MachineGod."

I snort. "MachineGod? He only augments influencers. He doesn't deal with peasants like us."

"You're not a peasant anymore." Alliott turns the laptop towards me. The headline onscreen reads, "Bringing Down the House".

I read through the article quickly. In short? Oneiroi Eurtec is crippled. Alliott and I wrecked their datacenter and most of their human capital. The upset at the deathball match did the rest. My balaclava-clad face and the name "Chicago Spectre" are plastered all over the news.

"We smashed up Oneiroi Incorporated and became overnight millionaires," Alliott says. "How much more influential can you get?"

"So what?" I say. "You want me to just walk into his place and say, 'Let me in, I'm the Rookie'?"

Alliott taps her prosthetic arm. "It worked for me."

The next day we assemble a list of augmentations that I'll need to survive the trip up and make plans to meet the MachineGod. Before I head out, I dress to party, swapping out my helmet for a rave mask and cat-ear headphones. Then I strap my skates on and promptly fall over.

A stream of invectives shoots out of my mouth with enough force to knock someone else over. My skates are rocket-powered, but the juice flows from my heart. A heart which I don't have.

Alliott is struggling to hold in a laugh. I see red and imagine wrapping my hands around her throat. Then I force the feeling back down. This isn't her fault. She's not to blame here. Natasha is.

She's the reason why Alliott and I have to ride the train instead of letting the city melt into a blur of light and metal. She's the reason I'm weak. I shift my fantasy to wrapping my hands around her throat instead.

I keep the cat headphones on while on the train, but the rave mask gets bundled into my pocket. Nobody pays attention to us; we're just a couple of weirdos in a city of thousands. My chest aches, but I ignore it by thinking about all the ways I can kill Natasha. There's a flash of red — real this time — that entices me to look out the window as we enter the crimson-light district.

The corporate district is where money is made; Neuneukolln is where money is stolen. But the crimson-light district is where money is spent. You can get a full-body augmentation courtesy of Anderson in the morning, shop for blood diamonds in the afternoon, and then cap the day off with an eight-course French dinner. Or you can buy a sexbot, have it upgraded with combat programming and equipment, and then have its facial features completely resculpted to resemble your favorite waifu. There's a reason the Bank of Eurtec was built here. The crimson-light district is the peak of unethical consumption. It's a black hole into which money disappears.

The train stops right by MachineGod's temple, but there's not much to see aboveground. Like an iceberg, most of his domain is below the surface. The only indication of life is EDM rising up from a staircase nestled between a sex shop and an armory. I strap the rave mask to my face, then we head down.

There's a roided-up bouncer at the bottom of the stairs. She's sporting a second pair of cybernetic arms grafted to the sides of her ribs, and looks like she's already planning to throw me back up.

"Tell the MachineGod that the Black Queen wants in," Alliott tells her. She sizes us up for a moment and her eyes go far away.

"The MachineGod welcomes his newest acolyte." The doors open. I walk into MachineGod's neon coliseum.

It's sweltering and muggy. The strobe lights are an ugly neon pink. The floor itself is a giant subwoofer; TeddyLoid rattles my teeth with every step. Everyone here is mashed together and wired up. Thick black cables dangle from the ceiling like a puppet master's strings, plugging into every exposed orifice they can find and replacing people's blood with EDM.

In the center of this sea of flesh and metal is a massive ring of steps leading up to a shiny steel dais. Atop the dais sits a combination throne and turntable set. MachineGod's twelve apostles lounge on the throne's enormous armrests. Each of them wears a simple white sling swimsuit and high heels, exposing their cybernetic flesh for the titillation of the crowd. A pair of disembodied hands expertly scratches the turntable, wired to the suspended, dismembered body of MachineGod himself.

MachineGod is a lot of things. A power player in the Eurtec underworld; an information broker who operates on an industrial scale; a complex messiah; a thrower of parties; an influencer, a pusher, a God. Some people claim that he's a rogue AI — a prototype Norn that escaped onto the Internet. Others think he's an actual god — an avatar of Mekhane or Vishnu, adapted for the modern age. Still others argue that he was the first person to figure out how to emulate consciousness on a machine. Nobody knows for sure. Nobody really cares either. What's important is that the MachineGod fought and died for our right to party. He's our lord, savior, and DJ. And this is his most sacred temple.

MachineGod's thick, muscular torso is directly above the center of the throne, underneath a mounted head and surrounded by four separate pairs of arms and legs. Robotic manipulators pop out from hidden rails under the steps and grasps his parts, bringing them together and stringing thick spindles of wire between them as they descend. In one fluid movement, the grippers detach themselves and MachineGod's body clicks together as he lowers himself onto his throne.

MachineGod's eyes glimmer like diamonds against a face sculpted by a neo-renaissance surgeon. His biceps compete for my attention with his bronzed, sleekly toned thighs. His apostles scoot closer, leaning against him and fondling an abdomen chiseled to perfection. With four hands, he caresses them. With the other four, he mixes a beat that makes my heart bounce in my chest.

His voice resonates in my ear. "Welcome, Rookie, to my temple!"

At the sound of my name, the crowd parts around me like the Red Sea, opening a path to the dais. I hear murmurs in the crowd. They're talking about the Bank of Eurtec. The Phitransimun Combine. Oneiroi Inc.

"Tales of your exploits have spread far and wide. To the Black Queen, I offer my acknowledgment. Have you come to seek my blessing?"

I nod once, not trusting myself to speak. Instead, I let the Inside Man take over my voice.

"MachineGod!" we say. All eyes turn to us. "I request your blessings. Augment me."

MachineGod laughs — a quick burst of record scratches that pierce my ears. "How bold! I would expect nothing less from the woman who broke Oneiroi's back. What do you desire?"

I rattle off a list of augments. "Full-body augment. Ceramic frame. Protection for high G-force and orbital re-entry. Full cognitive upload. I need my chest organs intact, brain optional. I need to be combat-ready. Unarmed, knife-fighting, guns, the works. Cognitive overclocker. Infrared tracking and magnifying lenses. Weapons. Something bladed. And something to interface with computers."

"I do not bestow my gifts lightly. What would you do with them?" he asks. "Would you be my apostle? Or my champion?"

"Neither," we say. "I want them so I can kill my ex. On the moon."

He laughs again. "Entertainment! Truly, hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned. And what do you offer in return?"

The music fades away.

"What will you sacrifice at my altar?"

"What do you want?" we ask.

MachineGod contemplates. "What do I want, I wonder?"

A bassline comes on, getting faster and faster.

The crowd waits with bated breath to hear his answer. The upper steps of the ring descend, lowering the throne onto a wider level of the dais. All the while, MachineGod studies us like ants.

"Ah!" he says aloud. "That will be your sacrifice."

A television screen lowers itself from the ceiling. The turntable flips over, revealing an operating table. The lowest step of the dais flips upward, becoming a ring looming over the throne. Camera lenses open up on the ring, and a series of manipulators with surgical tools emerge. A long, black cable with a pointed jack extends from the ring.

"The Ophanim shall be the tool of your ascension. You shall be reborn in a forge of music. And in return, I would have your memories. I would know how your love curdles to hatred. I would share that emotion with my people."

The screen turns on, showing our face through the viewpoints of everyone wired up in the club.

"Those are the terms of my blessing. Will you accept?"

We think it over. The Inside Man isn't certain that he can censor all my memories. It's one thing to fuck with organic brains — it's another thing entirely to fuck with silicon ones.

But then I think about the way Alliott looked at me when my skates didn't work. The impotence I felt. How good it's going to feel to choke the life out of Natasha.

"We — I accept your terms."

The beat drops. The crowd roars.

MachineGod's apostles slide from the throne and descend the steps. They surround me and sweep me off my feet, carrying me up to the table. Before I can blink, I'm strapped down and staring up at the ophanim. MachineGod wraps his hand around the jack and jams it through a hole in the table into the base of my skull.

I feel a sharp pain, and then nothing.

NEXT: The Vice Girls

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