Parallel 14: BioHack Earth
The problem, Jael realized, isn’t that slug trains are slow. The problem is that they are super sticky. And gross. And slow on top of it all. Their existence made little sense in a world where most things made little sense. That was perhaps the saving grace of this town. People were ready to hear the message. Ready for sanity to return. He stepped off the slug onto the train platform. Normally he wouldn’t bother with the trains, but when early morning ended, so did sane traffic practices.
Jael was a journeyman level faith worker for a small sectarian organization called Clarity that made it’s home here in Michicago. The founder had been born elsewhere and started the church elsewhere, but it had been purged from the earth in a fiery blaze. All that was left were the three branches that operated here in the city. He wore a navy blue coat and grey slacks with sturdy black shoes made for walking. A red kerchief in his right breast pocket and brass buttons accented the look, but otherwise he was plainly dressed compared to the average pedestrian. This marked him as a man of faith, though he didn’t advertise which one necessarily. These were dangerous times, after all.
His goal today was to save someone. Just one person. The place was Slip Row, a long stretch of city that catered to the lower tastes. Every alley was a portal to a new underworld of depravity. Every shop front an advertisement for the latest in hedonistic pursuits. The problems of the world could be forgotten here. New problems altogether could be bought for a modest fee. The trouble was that the world was getting messier, more complicated, which drove more people here. It wouldn’t be long before Slip Row became Slip District. Then who knew, maybe even Slip City. He and his brothers hoped to avert such a thing from coming to pass. They hoped, with a little patience and persistence, that they could snap folks back to reality and live lives in accordance with nature.
The Row was busy today. Another economic bust, another group of seekers looking to escape. Where the markets went, so followed the people into the arms of whatever vice held sway over them. One particular alley caught his eye. It was situated between a Hell Pepper emporium and a toy store called Gape. The reason this alley caught his eye was because of the old advertisements and announcements pasted to the walls. It was the usual fare; sensation heightening experiences, non-consensual role play, voluntary executions, and so on. But among the lot was an old poster from his boyhood days. A poster that read simply: Remember the Biggies!
The Biggies had been one of the first post-peoples, hacked into giants for the purpose of hard labor. The bleeding hearts compared it to slavery. It was a crime against man and nature to breed a race of humans simply to work their whole lives, they said. The breeding program ended a few years back, though this wasn’t due to some egalitarian notion of the rights of man, but rather that a newer, more efficient hack had been created which rendered the Biggies obsolete. The poster left a pang of nostalgia in his breast. Jael decided it must be a sign.
He made his way into the alley, careful not to venture too close to any pleasure vendors. They attracted customers with bright colors and entrancing pheromones. It was not uncommon for one to get lost down the wrong side street, only to come out the other end with nothing but the shirt on their back, and sometimes not even that! That’s why the sight of a man sitting propped against the wall wearing an all black bodysuit and a silver metal helmet stopped him in his tracks. The sight was so incongruous with everything else in the alley it was almost eye straining. Next to the man was a sign. The sign read: Tricks for Mods.
“What kind of tricks you looking to do there, son?” Jael asked. The man looked up at him.
“Give me a mod and I’ll show ya. Or chips. Chips work too,” he replied. His voice had a slight tinny quality, but it was still recognizably human.
“I’m afraid I wouldn’t be interested,” said Jael.
“Why don’t I show you and then you decide?” the man offered.
“Now, I don’t think…”
The man disappeared. Jael blinked several times to make sure he wasn’t losing his sight or his mind. A few long seconds passed before a sharp pop drew his attention to his left. The man had rematerialized before him, seemingly stepping out of a gash in the universe.
“That… that was…” Jael struggled for words. The man opened a hatch in the helmet near his mouth and popped a few cheese crunchies in.
“So? What do you think? Worth a mod or two?” the man asked.
“It could be worth a lot more than that if you tell me how you accomplished this feat!” Jael replied.
“Eh. To be honest, I’m not really sure how it works. Only that it does. I could throw a couple big science words at you, but you don’t look like the science type.”
“I am both a man of faith and reason,” said Jael.
“Science happens to be both, so maybe you’re in luck after all. You ever heard of the universal superstructure?” the man asked.
“What about quantum anchoring harmonics?”
“How about a name? Let’s start with a name. You are?” Jael asked.
“Name’s Emilio Valdez.”
“I am Brother Jael Ahtunamek.”
“Oh. A religious guy?”
“Right. I mean, no judgment here, I just don’t usually see you people around these parts,” said Emilio.
“Is that so?”
“Yeah, y’all are usually over by the exploitation orgies. I heard someone call it, “tending to the flock” once.”
“I’m not ordained, and I’m not here to partake. Actually, I’m looking for people like you. Lost souls,” said Jael.
“Well, you’re not wrong, pal,” said Emilio.
“Come with me. My brothers will give you all the mods and chips you’ll ever want,” said Jael.
Emilio weighed the offer in his mind. If he were on his own Earth, he would have run the other way screaming already. Being here had dulled his fear response with all the crazy screwed up stuff he’d seen, but his danger sense was still pretty sharp and right then it was giving him the all clear.
“What exactly we talking here?” Emilio asked.
“Just talking. You seem like you have a great many insights to share,” Jael replied.
“That’s it? Only talking?” Emilio asked.
“I’m sure they’d love a demonstration as well,” said Jael. Emilio nodded.
“Throw in a hot meal and I’m in.”
Jael welcomed the good news with a hearty laugh and a slap on the shoulder.
“Come then. I’m eager to hear your story.”
Jael led him through Slip Row, past block after block of the worst of human nature. Emilio had been to his share of red light districts. This was like if you combined one of those with a butcher shop and the very worst of Burning Man.
“So who are you guys exactly?” Emilio asked.
“We’re a small organization dedicated to helping people find their way to wherever it is they’re going,” said Jael.
“So are you a church or…?”
“The meaning of the word applies, but we’re not officially linked with any faith or denomination.”
“So like a charity or something?” Emilio asked.
“Sometimes. We get by with very little, but we give back when there’s enough to share,” said Jael.
“Do you guys have a name?” Emilio asked. The question seemed to make Jael uncomfortable.
“People don’t tend to think very kindly of us. Our beliefs are not… readily accepted.”
“I’m not looking to join any cults or anything,” Emilio said.
“A cult? Our humble group isn’t worthy of the title!” Jael said with a jovial chuckle. Emilio wished, not for the first time, that he’d landed on a less insane Earth. “You seem troubled.”
“Just not sure what I’m walking into here,” said Emilio. His danger sense was starting to gurgle up now.
“Your place wasn’t in that alley. You’re looking for something that can’t be found in this world,” said Jael.
“You’re right, but probably not in the way you think,” said Emilio.
“I think my brothers and I can help you, if you give us a chance.”
They ended up in front of an unremarkable building hugging the outskirts of Slip Row. It was a square block of grey stone brick, with tiny windows and no distinguishing signs. It was one of several places the organization operated out of, Jael told him. This one was dedicated to serving everything in the South side, from Slip Row to Slaughter Heights.
“I can change my mind anytime about this, right?” Emilio asked.
“Of course,” Jael said. “Are you having second thoughts?”
“Look, you seem nice, but I’ve had my ass bitten once too many times by guys with kind eyes and smooth voices and to be frank, I’m a little short on trust these days,” said Emilio.
“Why don’t you join us for a bit and then you can decide how you feel,” said Jael.
“There’s that join word,” said Emilio.
“I’m not a recruiter, Emilio. Free Will is a key part of the faith,” said Jael. He rolled up his sleeve, revealing rows upon rows of bloody cuts on his arm. Emilio realized it was because the inside of the sleeve was lined with little black needles, bent in like teeth. “Pain must be chosen freely.”
“Oh fuck,” said Emilio.
“What’s wrong?” Jael asked.
“I just remembered I have a thing,” Emilio said, turning to bolt. He ran headlong into a crowd that had been gathering in front of the building. “Excuse me, guys. Excuse me.”
A big guy with a club roughly pushed him back. “You ain’t going nowhere,” he said.