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MACRO 2: THE FORMULA OF THE VACUUM

Driving back to his hotel, Danny dropped 2 tabs of Fromoxodin. Bad enough that he had subjected his brain to the perplexity of jumping into virtuality and back again, but learning someone had resurrected a dead person in order to have sex with them had been the mother of all mind-fucks.

He took the West Radial Underpass into London. With the toll being £70 for a car and five times that for a commercial vehicle, the underground road was fairly clear and he got into Central London without once coming to a complete stop.

Up Exit Ramp 2, onto New Fleet Street. The traffic was heavy but moving sedately. Ten minutes later, he was parked beneath the Acropolis Hotel and reaching under his seat for a bottle of bourbon.

His hand came up empty.

‘Crap.’ He could definitely remember stashing a bottle there. Whether or not he’d drunk its contents in the meantime was a matter of conjecture. He had no recollection of having done so, but that signified little.

Up in the bedroom of his suite, he flung off his corduroy jacket and slipped into his denim one with all its character-making rips, patches and stains. Feeling like he was back in his own skin, he flopped onto the bed and listened to his head pleasantly hum as the second dose of Fromoxodin finally reached his brain.

He looked at his wristy and tapped its face to change the display from time to vital signs. According to the digital readouts, his heartbeat was coming down and his endorphin levels were rising.

All very good. Crossing his arms over his chest, he closed his eyes and went to his happy place. He’d barely begun to plan the rest of his day when he fell asleep.

 

~o~

 

Danny rose up out of the inky black depths of slumber. The humming which had intruded into his dream had escaped the confines of his head and was growing louder.

He opened his eyes. The room lay in semi-darkness.

An insect hovered above him. Resembling a dragonfly, it had a human head and a body the size of a medium cigar. Its wings were oscillating blurs, humming away.

 Danny sat up. The insect retreated a safe distance.

‘Fucking Fromoxodin.’ He rolled off the bed and slouched into the bathroom.

The insect tried to follow. Danny slammed the door in its face.

Without bothering to remove his clothes, he stepped into the shower, closed the door, changed the temperature setting to 0 centigrade and hit the SPRAY button. Icy jets of water assaulted him from above and the sides. He stood it as long as he could – about 10 seconds – before hitting the DRY button. The water ceased and he was blasted with warm hair.

Oh bliss.

It took a minute for his clothes to dry and then he stepped out of the stall.

The insect hovered above the wash basin. Danny made a grab for it. The hallucination eluded him and laughed.

‘What’s so funny?’ Danny growled.

‘What isn’t?’ replied the insect.

‘Didn’t I hallucinate you in New Delhi?’

‘That was George. He’s my twin brother.’

‘First chance I get, I’m quitting Fromoxodin.’

‘I’d like to see you try.’

‘I’ll book myself into a clinic.’

‘Won’t do you any good. Nobody’s managed to kick Fromoxodin. Nobody ever will.’

‘That’s all you know.’ Danny returned to the bedroom and hit the light switch. The main lights stayed off while the weaker secondary lights came on. So that explained the hum. It was a power cut. The hotel’s emergency generators had kicked in and the sound they made was travelling into his room through the aircon.

He went to the minibar and grabbed a handful of miniatures which he stuck in his jacket pocket. Then he took the sole remaining miniature of vodka, opened it and knocked it back in one.

‘Nice idea,’ said the insect. ‘Mixing alcohol with Fromoxodin. Next stop: Nut Job City.’

Danny dropped into an armchair and fished out a miniature of whisky. ‘Why are you bugging me?’

‘I’m a bug.’

‘Without me, you’re nothing.’

‘Correction. Without Fromoxodin, I’m nothing.

‘I’ve just got this one little job to do and then I’m kicking the stuff.’

‘Oh yeah? Remember what happened the last time you tried? Those nasty ants crawling over your skin and marching into your orifices?’

Danny remembered all right. It had been the most frightening experience of his life. Perhaps he’d stick with the Fromoxodin just a bit longer.

‘It’s alien, you know,’ said the insect. ‘Fromoxodin. Synthesised in the hovels of Mars from the spinal fluid of baby Martians. The Venusians are using it to enslave humanity.’

Was that right? It had the smack of truth about it. He’d never met a Venusian but he’d heard enough about them to make him think they were not to be trusted.

He opened his whisky miniature and poured its contents down his throat. ‘Wait a minute,’ he said as a thought struck him. ‘There are no Martians! They died out a billion years ago.’

‘That’s what they want you to believe. You know damn well the Secret World Government tells lies as a matter of routine. You'd have to be an idiot to believe them when they say there’s no life on Mars.’

‘That’s a bloody good point.’

‘It’s like this, Daniel. Half a century ago, the United States government managed to back engineer the flying saucer that crashed at Roswell.’

‘I heard about that!’

‘They built a whole fleet of space craft and secretly colonised Mars. As soon as they got settled, they reduced the once-proud natives to the status of slaves. Rounded them up and stuck them on reservations.’

‘The bastards!’

‘And now they’ve sold you out to the Venusians.’

‘Me?’

‘Not just you, you egotistical twat. Everyone on this planet who isn’t a member of the Secret World Government. They’re turning you into robots.’

‘What can we do to stop them?’

‘It’s perfectly simple,’ said the insect. ‘All you have to do is – .’

The main lights flickered on. The secondaries turned themselves off and the humming stopped. At which point the insect disappeared, leaving his sentence unfinished.

‘Bugger.’ Danny fished out another miniature of booze. ‘I’m never going to save the world at this rate.’

Aware he was in no fit state to face the travails of central London after dark, he took the lift down to the underground car park and climbed into his car. His wristy, still set to vital signs, was telling him he needed 200 milligrams of lybodin and 100 milligrams of cyclobasus.

A quick rummage in the glove compartment produced a blister pack of the former and a bottle of the latter.

He took the prescribed dosages and listened to Tibetan music on the stereo while he waited for the drugs to work.

 

~o~

 

Head back in order, Danny slipped a linen filter mask over his face and walked through London to Tottenham Court Road. It took him twenty minutes to get to the street’s north end where it met up with Euston Road. Along the way, he got fed up with the mask and put it in his pocket. It probably wouldn’t have been much good against a terrorist gas attack anyway.

A row of billboards kept the road’s temptations hidden from passers-by. The only way in was through a transparent booth resembling a phone box. It was covered from three angles by CCTV cameras.

One of the billboards proclaimed: ‘IT IS FORBIDDEN FOR MINORS TO PASS BEYOND THIS POINT.’ Another warned: ‘THIS IS A DESIGNATED RED LIGHT ZONE. ENTRY TO TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD IS AT YOUR OWN RISK’.

Danny stepped into the booth and swiped his ID card across its card-reader. The door behind him hissed shut; the one in front opened.

A hoarding plastered with graffiti formed a narrow passage with the outer billboards. Once around that, he had a full view of the road’s grubby delights. Crammed into its three-quarters of a mile were every kind of vice. Some electronic, some sexual, some narcotic.

The more legitimate establishments brazenly advertised their attractions with neon lights. Other places drew less attention to themselves. This being a Monday there were few pedestrians about. Their numbers would build as the night got older, but for now Danny had a good chance of getting to his destination without being bumped into, mugged or hassled.

Keeping his head down, he hurried along the middle of the road. Past shops selling computers, cameras, orgasmatrons, televisions, stereos, bugging devices, legal highs, sex aids, video games, hand guns and mobile phones. Past brothels, restaurants, sex shops, arcades, VR sex booths, casinos, pubs, cocktail bars, head shops, girly bars, rock clubs, night clubs, massage parlours. Past Heavenly Thunder, London’s only licensed opium den.

On either side of the road, working girls stood at designated points, smoking, making small talk and occasionally calling out to passers-by. As required by law, they wore colour-coded jump suits. Pink for the straight-sexers. Black for the doms. White for subs. Red for those who didn't mind a bit of blood. And yellow and brown for other tastes.

Halfway down the road, a narrow, unlit alley ran between two buildings. Most people who entered it did so merely to relieve themselves one way or another. Few bothered to go all the way to the end and, if they did, they generally assumed the black door they encountered was a fire escape.

Careful to avoid anything nasty on the ground, Danny negotiated his way to the door and pressed a button.

A voice said, ‘Fuck off.’

Unperturbed, Danny spoke into the entry phone. ‘I want to see the Vicar.’

‘Password?’

‘Coney Island.’

With a click and a buzz, the door swung outwards, revealing a black-painted room not much bigger than a broom cupboard. As soon as Danny was in and clear of the door, it swung shut behind him.

Hidden sensors decided he was no threat. The floor sank and lowered him into an underground room. It was dimly lit and smelt vaguely of damp. Electronic components and machine parts occupied metal shelving. One corner was given over to a settee and a coffee table. Another was taken up by a workbench.

Danny’s attention fixed on the kid with the submachine gun. Dressed all in leather, his face painted white with a black teardrop covering his left cheek, he couldn’t have been much older than 16.

Danny stepped off the platform. It rose back up.

‘Stay still,’ said the kid, aiming his weapon at Danny’s face, ‘or I’ll blow your fucking brains out.’

‘Sure thing.’ Grinning like he was enjoying a private joke, Danny raised his hands. The lybodin in his blood made him fearless. Only common sense stopped him making a grab for the gun. ‘Don’t want my fucking brains blown out. That would put a serious dent in my day.’

‘And don’t try to be funny.’

‘Nice machine gun, kid. What else did Santa bring you?’

‘Oh ha bloody ha.’

‘Thank you. For an encore I play the spoons.’

‘Who the fuck are you and what the fuck do you want?’

‘As I believe I mentioned earlier, I want to see the Vicar.’

‘And suppose the Vicar don’t want to see you?’

‘I’ll take my business elsewhere.’

‘You still ain’t told me who you are.’

‘And you ain’t told me who you are.’

‘I’m Ice, fuckwad.’

‘Pleased to meet you, Ice Fuckwad. I’m Danny Jasinski.’

‘Yeah, and I’m the King of England.’

Danny bowed. ‘An honour, Your Majesty, King Ice Fuckwad.’

‘Gimme your ID card.’

Danny slowly lowered his left hand and dipped into his inside jacket pocket. He brought out his ID card.

Keeping his machine gun trained on Danny, Ice took the card and slipped it into a small reader attached to his belt. The machine bleeped and a green light came on.

‘Holy crap,’ said Ice. ‘You’re Daniel Jasinski.’

‘Holy crap,’ said Danny. ‘So I am.’

Ice lowered his weapon and handed the card back. ‘Fucking brilliant. Danny fucking Jasinski!’

‘Do you think you can let me see the Vicar now?’

‘Sure thing, Mr Jasinski. Only he’s moved his lab to the back of Vanity Fair so we’re gonna have to take the boat.’

Ice led Danny through a metal door into a brick chamber. A canalised river – one of the many small rivers the Victorians had subsumed into their sewage system - ran through it.

Danny sniffed the air. It was a trifle stale but otherwise carried no hint of anything unpleasant.

‘We call this the Styx,’ said Ice, climbing into a flat-bottomed boat.

‘I know,’ said Danny. He and the boy sat next to each other on a seat that was little more than a plank.

‘It’s named after a racing driver or something.’

‘Actually, it’s named after a river in Greek mythology.’

Ice pressed a button. The outboard motor coughed twice before catching. It propelled them slowly into a tunnel dimly lit by ceiling lights spaced about twenty yards apart.

Along the way, Ice gabbled on about what a legend Danny was and how he couldn’t believe he was sailing down the Styx with the great Danny Jasinski, once the greatest hacker in the world and now a gun for hire. His voice echoed off the red brickwork, bounced up and down the tunnel. The reverb gave it a supernatural air.

This, thought Danny, is what God must have sounded like when he spoke to Moses.

They came to a chamber barely distinguishable from the one they’d just left. Ice cut the motor and steered the boat to the side. He hopped out and wrapped the mooring rope around a metal post. Then he produced a key and unlocked a metal door.

As the door opened, sound flooded out. It was the millennia old cacophony of a market place, of people shouting the virtues of their wares, of canny buyers haggling with ruthless vendors.

This was Vanity Fair, the underground bazaar in which reputedly anything could be - and was - bought and sold. Anything illegal that is.

Stalls crammed with pills, electronics, pirated software and weaponry were squeezed between ramshackle shacks. Vendors watched warily as potential buyers examined their wares.

Danny’s eye was drawn to the multicoloured splendour of a pick-and-mix pill stall. It reminded him of the sweet shops of his youth.

In a tatty marquee, excited punters bet on cock fights, cockroach races and cage fights. A hand-painted sign announced: ‘RUSSIAN ROULETTE BY MANAGEMENT PERMISSION ONLY.’

The air was spiced with the competing scents of humanity, hashish, engine oil and expended gunpowder.

And it seemed like everyone was carrying a gun. Everyone except Danny.

He and Ice pushed their way through the throng, made it to the market's edge which was delineated by a series of arched recesses, each with a closed door. Armed guards stood or sat by most of them.

Two close-cropped women wearing black tracksuits and brandishing Uzi submachine guns stood either side of a green door. Their thighs and arms bulged with steroid-enhanced musculature.

Ice waved cheerily. ‘Hey Gertie! Hey Brunhilde! How are my favourite bull dykes today?’

Neither woman responded.

‘Don’t talk a word of English,’ Ice explained. ‘Otherwise me and my balls would have just parted company.’ He pushed open the green door. ‘Vicar’s through there. Tell him I’m taking my tea break.’

The doorway led into a workshop cluttered with cannibalised electronics. A bench, 20 feet long, sported a parade of computer monitors, each displaying the output of a different processor.

In the middle of the room, the Vicar was jogging on the spot in a VR rig. The helmet on his head, the black domes of the goggles covering his eyes and the elastic straps that kept him from running into the wall made him look like a bizarre insect caught in a high-tech web. ‘Hee-yah!’ he yelled, leaping into the air and simultaneously punching a virtual opponent. ‘Die, mother! Die!’

Danny noted the VR rig was positively antiquated. It was a Phantos Mirage II, which had been superseded over a year ago by the PM III which in turn was being phased out in favour of the PM IV.

He cast a wary eye at what looked like a glitter ball hanging from the middle of the ceiling. He knew it was watching his every move. And he also knew it had at least one weapon aimed at him. If the zip ball’s silicon mind decided he was a threat to the Vicar, it would take him out in a flash.

The Vicar ducked. As he raised his head again, he spun round and karate chopped the air. Then he was suddenly on his back. ‘Not fair!’ he yelled, hitting the STOP button on his helmet. ‘You sneaky Melkron vermin!’ He removed the helmet and goggles and laughed. ‘The bastards get me every time.’

He clocked his visitor and tossed the helmet and goggles aside. ‘Danny Jasinski! As I live and breathe!’

The Vicar had the face of a brute. His low forehead and bushy-eyebrows put Danny in mind of Mr Hyde as played by Spencer Tracy. The jagged scar running from his left temple down to the side of his nose was a ravine in a landscape of enlarged pores. No one inclined to judge a book by its cover would have credited the Vicar with his IQ of 180 plus.

‘You should have told me you were coming!’ The Vicar freed himself from the VR rig’s webbing and leapt over a box of circuit boards to land face to face with Danny. Knowing Danny’s aversion to being touched, he refrained from giving him a hug. ‘My God! It must be 2 years since our little caper in Rio.’

‘3 and a bit.’

‘No shit? Where does the time go?’

Danny shrugged. He wasn’t comfortable talking about Rio. Nothing had gone according to plan and he, the Vicar and everyone else involved, were lucky not to be rotting in a Brazilian prison. He nodded at the rig. ‘Isn’t it time you got yourself a new one?’

‘You gotta be kidding me. The PM II knocks spots off the PM III and PM IV. I wouldn’t part with that baby for all the moolah in the world. Wanna give it a go?’

‘No time, Vicar. I’ve got to make this brief.’

‘You sure? I’ve got a perfectly pirated copy of Need for Speed 37. It’s not due for release for another 3 weeks.’

‘I’ll have to pass.’ Danny got down to business. ‘Four weeks ago, a Schnell Integrator went missing from a Ministry of Defence depot in Lincolnshire. Hats off to whoever took it. They knew a thing or two about beating security systems.’

‘I’d heard rumours,’ said the Vicar.

‘Rumours, my arse. Something like that goes missing, 9 times out of 10 it ends up in your hands. I’m willing to bet I’m standing within a hundred feet of that Integrator. Am I right?’

‘You might be.’

Danny took out his bank card. ‘Half a million.’

The Vicar smiled ruefully. ‘You’ll have to do better than that.’

‘Right now, I can’t.’

‘Oh yeah. I heard about your run-in with Quantium. Bad business that.’ The Vicar pointed to what looked like a photo booth. ‘You ever see one of those before? It’s an Epsilon Trimex 2300. One of the earliest VR modules. Very few are left in existence.’

‘It’s obsolete.’

‘That’s as may be. But it was a huge part of my adolescence and I’d like it to be a part of my life now. Unfortunately, its logic modules are fried and I can’t get any replacements. So I’m making do with an emulator written in Varijax.’

‘What are you running it on?’

‘A Korby Max.’

‘Good choice.’

‘The emulator has a few bugs which I’m having trouble tracking down and straightening out. So here’s my offer: gimme half a million and get my 2300 running, and the Schnell Integrator’s yours.’

‘It’ll take me a few weeks to sort out the code.’

‘I can wait.’

 

~o~

 

INFORMATION DUMP (from wikignosis): Despite their speed and versatility, quantum computers by their very nature have their limitations. Thanks to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the act of extracting one item of information from a quantum calculation destroys all other information before it can be read.

Making sense of any data extracted is also problematical.

The Schnell Integrator acts as a bridge between the quantum world and our own. Between every cycle of a quantum processor, the Integrator takes a snapshot of the processor’s core and converts the information thus extracted from qubits (short for quantum binary digits) to standard bits. It does so with the appearance of zero entropy. In other words, to all intents and purposes no information is lost.

In actuality, the process of converting qubits to bits is highly entropic. However, using a poorly-understood mathematical process which was originally created by a quantum computer programmed by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Hans Schmoelling, the Schnell Integrator is able to replace the lost data. It does so by making a best guess and then using its own quantum core to test the viability of its assumptions.

Little is known about the Schnell Integrator as it is classified Top Secret. Both the American and British governments (who co-developed the Integrator) deny its very existence.

 

~o~

 

Heading back to the hotel. Clutching a holdall containing a Schnell Integrator. Knowing the police were looking for it. The army were looking for it. MI6, MI5, the CIA – and for all he knew the Girl Guides of America – were looking for it. The Schnell was hot stuff. Something HM Government and the Pentagon dreaded falling into the wrong hands. Who knew how far they’d go to get it back? What methods they’d use. Blackmail, torture, brainwashing, murder. If he got caught with it, there was no telling what would happen to him. Most likely he’d never be seen again.

Danny had heard of that happening. Of government snatch squads coming in the middle of the night. Smashing down doors. Spiriting away families and altering the records to show they’d never existed.

And there were snuff squads too. They’d go in and shoot to kill. Then leave the bodies as a warning.

He’d heard all about it. Read it on the Internet.

His wristy bleeped. Trying to tell him he was in need of medication. But he wasn’t falling for it. He knew the Secret World Government had a device secretly built into every microchip manufactured since 2012 so they could take control any time they wanted. If his watch was telling him he needed a pill, then it was them – the enemies of freedom – out to trick him into taking an overdose.

The sooner he got back to his hotel room, the better. But progress was slow; not least because of his compulsion to cross the road whenever anyone came towards him. The traffic was at a standstill; it made getting across relatively easy though squeezing between bumpers made him feel vulnerable. And who knew what lurked inside any of those slumbering vehicles? How many assassins, snatch squads, snuff squads, surveillance units, Venusian reconnaissance parties, white slave traders and kidney thieves?

He was passing the entrance to the British Museum when a bomb ripped apart the top of a tower block. It was about a mile away, so he saw the explosion seconds before he heard it. An orange ball of flame suddenly blossomed amongst eddies of smoke and falling concrete. Then came the concussion, setting off car and burglar alarms - seemingly thousands of them. People got out of their cars and shouted at one another.

‘Holy shit! Did you see that?’

‘What the fuck?’

‘Martha! Get the kids back in the car!’

‘Now we’re never going to get home.’

‘Isn’t that Mayfair? Does anybody know? Is that Mayfair?’

‘Looks like Knightsbridge.’

As if there wasn’t enough racket, people began to honk their horns. Police sirens seemed to get angrier and angrier, frustrated at their lack of progress through the gridlocked streets.

Danny clutched the holdall to his chest and ran.




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