A cyberpunk story in which a hacker is dominated by an addiction and argues with his mind.
|It was the first hour of February 13th, 2073 and Alan Borlin was running across the roadway; sprinting through the mildly stinging rain as quick as he could. His implanted cybermind calculated the acidity of the droplets: This water has a pH value of 3.2. This is outside recommended levels.
"No, really!" Alan remarked sarcastically to himself and continued his sprint through the huge man-made valley created between the illuminated Towers of Paradise. Nuclear fallout across the Pacific had caused a dramatic increase in acid rain recently, and it was getting worse. His brain had registered pH4 just a month ago.
The lights of the metropolis twinkled in the damp midnight darkness as Alan ducked through the hissing automatic doors to the interior of a state-run casino. His cyberoptical sensors efficiently adjusted to the blinding light of the casino’s sterile interior, doing in a nanosecond what took “birth-standard” human eyes so much longer.
He remembered a time during his early childhood when implants were merely used for cosmetic or health reasons. That was even before the government was run by the ever-present Corporation, a far-reaching multinational trade syndicate. Now, he thought, each infant undergoes a series of surgeries to “normalize” the child. Those whose body rejected the artificial components were immediately labeled as “unfit for society,” and separated from their families.
Alan found himself, as usual, being told memories were merely dreams and fantasies; unstable drawbacks of an unconscious mind in repose. His birth-standard brain remembered the truth though. No I don't, came the retort.
"Yes, I do."
The security scanners installed on the ceiling of the entranceway caused minor static and a series of quick hiccups in Alan's omnipresent aetherweb connection, as they searched his cybernetic parts for malicious or illegal programming, trojan horses, viruses, or other anomalies.
The casino was silent, as usual. Walking into one of the many open gambling rooms, his nose was assaulted with the disgusting smell of the sweat and dirt of the assorted casino patrons, before his brain automatically suppressed his olfactory senses. Many of the patrons had been sitting in the same position, at the same slot machine, for a full day. Alan couldn’t actually remember why the gambling stations were called slot machines, since they merely served as access jacks to gain entrance to the actual gambling programs that the casino ran. Long rows of these stations stretched across the entire floor, with about eighty percent of them being occupied at the moment. Alan’s cybermind instantly interrupted his thought process with the correct number: Eighty-three-point-seven percent.
From where Alan was standing in the open doorway, there was absolutely no movement within the gambling room. Each gambler was completely absorbed in the virtual casino. Everywhere, seemingly zombified patrons with glazed eyes hunched over the localized aetherweb connectors within the slot machines. Even the casino employees, state enforcers hired to forcefully uphold the rules and regulations of the Corporation gambling facilities, were jacked in. They would only respond if an illegal action by a patron flagged central security, at which time the employee slot machines would be automatically powered down until the problem was solved. They were just as addicted as the people they were hired to control.
Lucky for Alan, his highly illegal hacking programs were disguised behind layers of trained and repetitive thought processes: Did I remember to turn off the stove? How will I ever get that promotion that I need? What was the time of my next appointment? Did I remember to turn off the stove? How will I ever…
Stationary patrons at casinos who were not at slot machines activated alarms in the anomaly detector, which notified the closest enforcer to lead the prospective gambler to an unoccupied station. In order not to trip the security protocol, and bring suspicion upon himself, Alan moved casually between the identical rows of gamblers and slot machines.
He found a suitable station, tucked between an elderly man, and a large woman with greasy, untidy hair. Activating his proximity wireless beacon, he immediately felt the connection with the open aetherweb jack and mentally entered the casino.
Secure connection achieved. Automatically entering bank account information.
It was not Alan’s first time in a casino, so he was able to brace himself for the wave of emotion that broke over him as his connection stabilized. The feelings were familiar, and like the rest of the gambling addicts in the casino, he craved it.
“I just need to get in, do the job, and get out,” he muttered to himself.
A gambling interface invaded his vision, scrolling through the multitudes of games to select. Subconsciously, his cybermind selected his old favorite. I can afford a few hands of poker. Alan agreed with his cybermind. He would be infinitely rich in just a few moments anyway, once he hacked into the casino’s programming. He was instantaneously dealt a hand by the virtual poker table.
Unlike the numerous addicted members of society that surrounded him, Alan understood why digital gambling was so alluring. In fact, he was one of the original programmers for the Corporation who wrote this casino's code, before he made one too many negative comments about the manner in which the syndicate used addiction to control the populace, and was subsequently fired. The Corporation wiped Alan's work-related memory banks, and thought that they deleted the confidential files on the casino. Fortunately for Alan, they were backed up in his apartment at the time. My memory files have been corrupted. Defragmentation is recommended.
The secret, which the Corporation went to great lengths to protect, was the use of artificial emotion transmitters. These insidious devices were designed to send magnified feelings of joy and happiness when the gamblers won, and anticipation and hope when they lost. In most cases, the casino was the only place left where the addicts experienced such emotions. Without concentrating on the poker with more than a few of his available simultaneous thought processes, he won the pot with a full house. He was happy. Remember, it is just an illusion of electronics, he thought.
That is false, since these are my own feelings.
Alan knew better.
Suddenly, a pop-up appeared in his vision, advertising suites in a downtown high rise apartment building. He was sure that nobody in the casino, himself included at that moment, could afford to live there. Maybe he would look up the information again when he became rich. After another moment, he closed the pop-up window.
Activating a program stored in his cybermind, he began to systematically crack the security and banking code of the casino. At the same time, he continued to play the dealt hand of cards, and decided to raise against the wishes of his electronic alter ego, which notified him of his error in judgment: I should not have raised, but folded. My current hand has only a twenty-one percent chance of winning. Nobody bluffs anymore, he thought.
Alan glanced at the half opaque ticker at the bottom of his vision, notifying him of his hacking program’s progress. Numbers and letters flashed across the bar with blazing speed, telling him that he had not yet been detected, and that the program was one fifth of the way through the casino’s firewall. A few more hands would be alright. Just don’t become addicted again, he thought.
Another gambler folded against Alan’s hand, directed to do so by his own cybermind. He felt another wave of excitement and hope, as the hacking program continued to run.
One third of the way, now.
Just enough time for another couple hands.
Alan was dealt a pocket pair, and experienced anticipation once again. The feelings were comforting and familiar to the former addict. It was becoming harder and harder to concentrate on the reason that he had come. He lost this hand and felt a bittersweet emotion, a mix of determination, anxiety and sadness. He wanted to feel happy again.
The program was halfway done.
Plenty of time.
The casino dealt him the cards as a second pop-up advertised a popular brand of male enhancement implants. Not now, I'm trying to gamble, he thought. Alan knew that only if he won would he feel happy. He had to win. He needed to win. He didn’t, and felt sad.
Three quarters completed.
I shouldn’t worry about hacking the casino.
Alan was given the next two cards. They were suited number cards. He was hoping to win the pot. He knew that he wanted that feeling of joy. He craved the emotion. With the flop came a twinge of regret. There was no possibility for a flush, or a straight, and no pair. He had to fold. He just wanted to be happy. He wanted nothing more than to feel that emotion.
Four fifths completed.
I would be able to concentrate on my gambling better if I shut down the hacking program.
He agreed. In fact, Alan couldn't quite remember why the alternate program was running in the first place. It must have had something to do with preventing him from gambling. In that case, he thought, I should immediately end the process. He smiled inwardly, and concentrated fully on his poker game. He just wanted to feel happy again.
Program shutdown completed.
Alan won the hand with a miraculous pair on the river, and was awarded with the artificial emotions. He reveled in them, but the feelings passed too quickly. It wasn’t enough. He wanted to be joyous forever. He would just have to play another hand.
And another after that. And another after that. And another after that...
But that was okay, since he had no obligations anymore, no appointments that couldn't be disregarded, no involvement in writing and implementing silly hacking programs. No, he had nothing but time.
...And another after that. And another after that. And another after that...