The Recycled Man, part 1’, Rob Sharp

Illustrations © 2009 Carmen

 [ The Tallyman, © 2009, Carmen ] The wind up on the dike cut through the Tallyman like a thousand knives, as he crawled along its top, hugging whatever shelter he could find above the drowned streets of Old London. Then it was always windy at this time of the year, which was why the citizens of Southern GB called their new home 'Hurricane City'.

Below in the darkness, he could hear the rhythmic swell of the North Sea gnawing away at the reinforced foamconcrete, as the water continued to rise a little more each year. But his thoughts were on the job rather than the state of the nation; focusing on a debtor somewhere up ahead. Ancient history wasn't his strong point.

Then to the Tallyman, the world was only eighteen months old.

Initialised on Jun8/2102.
Authorised by Company Audit Law Mar10/2099.

Due for his two year defrag, or 100 terminations, which ever came first. Eighteen months on the Company's books, after the original owner of this body had died.

The wind increased a notch, flapping Finn's all-weather coat like a bat's wings, as he inched along the lip of the concrete dike, his HeadSpace visor trying to pick up any clue to the debtor's mode of escape.

To the Tallyman's knowledge-implant of coastal weather patterns, it was too risky to launch a dirigible for the continent at this time of year. No, it was a boat this particular Meep was after. Lose himself in the ruins of London for a week or two, and then head out to Iceland, home of the creditless and the brave.

Which meant the Target1 would have help.

Finn eventually found the evidence. Ropes and climbing gear hanging down the steep slope of the dike, dropping away into the darkness. He raised his dripping HeadSpace visor and sniffed at one of the ropes like a dog. Epithelials were present. Someone was in such a fucking hurry they'd not had time to slip on gloves. The ironglass crown embedded in his brain piggybacked Hurricane City's employment register. Everyone's ID sat in that database, even if you were just passing through the new, hi-rize London for a day, the corporate peepers would pick up your ID tag. Read everything about you from three generations of ancestors to what colour socks you preferred.

Bullet points on the three samples he'd inhaled shot back into his consciousness.

All bucking against the Company line.

This was going to be a fucking messy one. Zealots always fought harder.

From the long holster underneath his left armpit, the Tallyman withdrew an ornately crafted weapon known as a Salamander. For luck, he kissed the bulbous gas jet ring at the end of the barrel, before gripping the rope himself and leaning back into the vicious wind. Abseiling down the dike into the unknown, he could feel the foamconcrete crunching beneath his A-top boots.

Closer to the rolling sea, the icy spray whipped around him, courtesy of the wind. With his upgraded hearing, Finn could just detect voices inside nature's roar. People shouting to each other across the gale force storm. Picking out six individuals, he compared voiceprints over HeadSpace against the employment register again.

And there was his quarry, as bright as a Scottish day.

Grinning, Finn let go of the rope and dropped the remaining twenty-five feet.

As he fell, several carbon shafted arrows whistled passed his head, embedding into the dike. Happy day. The debtor and his friends knew the Tallyman was coming.

Landing hard on both feet, he skidded slightly on the inspection jetty, which was covered in slime and crustaceans from the high winter tides. The intense smell of saline water flooded his olfactory sensors for a second or two, masking the familiar stink of human sweat. The scent of fear. Then he found his focus... They were trying to tackle him from two sides at once.

The Tallyman dipped the snout of his Salamander into the briny sea for a second. It sucked up both water and weed, thirstily accepting whatever ammunition Finn fed it. Then he fired, with an explosive crack. Propelled by exploding butane3, which heated the seawater to just over boiling point, the gas-gun's four nipple exhausts vented blue flame as it spewed the liquid out at high velocity.

There was a scream to Finn's right, as target4 was caught full in the face with the blast of scalding water. He heard the man scrabbling to retain his footage on the slick inspection gantry, before toppling into the cruel sea.

Target2 struck blindly with a D-blade, catching the Tallyman in the right shoulder. It cut through his teflaxcoat and slid through to the warm flesh underneath. Finn's morphine shunt counteracted the pain just a nano-second too late, as the ghost of a feeling made him grit his teeth against the agony, which never quite came.

Scraping the gun against the crumbling foamconcrete wall, the Salamander sucked in what debris it could and Finn flipped the weapon over his shoulder, pulling the trigger. There was a bang, and the gas exhausts singed the side of his face, as another yelp told him he'd caught Target2 with a glancing blow. Finn kicked back with his left foot and felt the satisfying crunch of bone breaking beneath his boot. Turning, he had only a glimpse of his attacker before he whacked her in the face with the gun's heavy butt.

The Age of Chivalry was officially dead.

Either deceased or unconscious, Target2 slithered down the dike wall.

Two more arrows whistled through the darkness, catching him in the chest and under the ribs. Pulling them free, he felt the first arrow had collapsed his right lung. Adrenaline and painkillers flooded his system as he leapt blindly into the dark, to land on the pitched roof of some ancient, rotting building.

The lung would slow him down, so he had to take out the rest of these fucking Meeps quicktime. Wheezing slightly, he loped along the slippery roof ridge, as the sea splashed across his boots, threatening to wash him away into the blackness below.

More arrows. But the shooter was becoming erratic; panicking. An old metal ladder hung down from the brick wall before him, so the Tallyman started to climb. Up and up he went, momentarily cut off from the wind that had been his friend since he had left the city gates, two hours before.

There was a piece of tile loose on the top of the rusted fire escape, which Finn jammed into the greedy barrel of his gun. He had a chest belt under his coat with a variety of nasty experimental ammunition, but they cost credits. He'd used too many rubber bullets and acid slugs this month and the fine in his life-account was already quite substantial. So he improvised.

"That is what the Salamander is designed for!" the voice of his Glaswegian arms training officer from sixteen months ago echoed around his head. "Butane3 explosive powered, it can fire bloody anything you can stuff in its gob! Use what you can find as a weapon. Goose feathers shot out of the Salamander will still bloody hurt!"

"Right..." Finn whispered back at his friend the wind as it picked up again.

The silhouette of the archer bobbed out from behind a ventilation stack across the flat, decaying roof he had now reached. Leveling his weapon, he let loose with the piece of tile. Target3 caught it in the head. He did a little backwards dance before the fool realised he was dead, and then he crashed through the wet, rotted roof.

Picking his spots carefully, Finn tried to calculate the construction of the building. Where the load supporting girders, rusting away after over 60 years, would still be. One false step and he'd be through the rotten asphalt too and falling into Jeesus only knew what inside the derelict, flooded building.

He paused to kick the dead man's crossbow across the tiles and over the side. Now he had a quiver of slim black arrows, of which he placed three in the barrel of his Salamander.

Then there it was. A small, single-sailed craft, moored between the buildings, being tossed and thrown about like a kid's toy by the ocean's swell. There were two people already in the boat, with another trying to cast off. The sail had that fucking familiar single eye motif painted on it, in red, white and blue. The mark of the Egyptian Big Brother. Whether the boat had been bought from one of Ra's people, or whether it was just a copycat, didn't really matter. This attempted removal of a loan defaulter from the country would be logged down as part of the terrorist organisation's personal debt to the Company.

To balance the books.

The gale was winding up again and Finn made a few quick calculations, which confirmed that any shot from this distance would probably miss. He would have to reclaim the loan up close and merciful.

Catching a trailing rope in his free hand, left by the fleeing conspirators, he slid down like some maniac pirate of old. Casually, he fired again on the move—Bam!—Never tiring of that hot explosive noise and the exhaust flashes of fire from the snout of his pistol. Target6 went overboard with the arrows forming a nice triangular grouping in his chest. Target5 and the debtor in question both froze.

For the longest moment, the three combatants in drowned London looked at each other. A small plastic hatchet hung from Target5's belt. The girl with the funky mass of curly brown hair was wondering if she could unhook it in time. Finn had an empty gun in his paw. Then the debtor went and spoiled the moment by beginning to blub like some juvenile found stealing sweetstuff from the people's market.

The Tallyman took the initiative. Popping a fat rubber shell from his chest belt, he had loaded and fired before either of the two criminals could react. The rubber bullet whacked neatly off the woman's forehead, tipping her back into the sea. Ricocheting, it caught the fat, fifty-something loan defaulter on the ear.

"Ow!" Target1 exclaimed, holding the side of his head. He was already crying profusely. All dignity and whatever courage he once had in taking on the Company long since gone.

"Can't we come to some sort of... arrangement?" He hung onto the side of the pitching boat, a trickle of blood now running down his neck from the bruised ear onto his white collar.

"Don't be bloody silly," replied Finn. "With your debt, you're worth more to the Company dead than alive!" The spray was running down his angled, honey-coloured HeadSpace visor as he loaded another gift into the mouth of his ornate gun.

Here came the legal bit.

"Jon Forester of no fixed abode... For monies owed to Xiang&Whitechapel, LondonSalvage2300 and AppleVirgin, your ticket is well and truly punched!"

And with his usual coldness of heart, the Tallyman leveled his gilded and carved pistol at the fat man's head, and lovingly squeezed the trigger.

"Then he collapsed. Just like that. Had a heart attack and pegged out on me, before I could fire."

Jean4280 smiled from the opposite bed, chewing on sweetstuff. It had been Finn's turn to tell the tale. The one time Tallymen met, other than when one Company sent them up against each other, was in Refit.

"Jeesus... So how come you ended up in here?" Jean4280 cast her china blue eyes around the tiny surgical room. It was like a real hospital, but studded with Company logos and designer weapons racks. Sort of MedicLite.

"Took my fucking eyes off the Meep in the sea. As my Target1 keeled over dead, she stuck that crud plastic axe right through my boot! Lost two toes and part of the foot... Plus, with a collapsed lung, my Company sent me to Refit."

"Bet you sorted her for that!"

"Too busy hoping around, swearing. My shunt was out of painkillers. Still, they'll recycle the other five bodies from this job. I should still cream a tidy bonus off the top. Guess the axe lady'll float down the Thames later this week, and I'll claim her too. It was not a good night for a swim!"

The two professional debt collectors laughed. A moment of relaxation. A bit of companionship. Better than the carton of booze Finn usually met up with after such a case.

A nurse dressed in flimsy medical greens wandered in from the moving walkway, clipboard in hand, chewing Kato's stimgum. Finn could smell the nutmeg on her breath. Sexy.

"Jean4280. You're outta here this afternoon. Replacement left hand, ulna, bone regrowth, repaired ribs and intercostal muscles, three litres of bullsblood—account charge?"


"Let's hope you're good for it!" Finn chuckled.

"Shut it," the girl replied with a wry grin.

"Press here." The humourless nurse ignored the exchange and held out the charge sheet for Jean4280 to thumb. The tiny ironglass splinter embedded in the Tallyman's right digit made contact with the aluminium seal on the docket, and the book was balanced. Jean swept back the single bed sheet, oblivious of the fact she was wearing only a pair of tight paper hospital panties, and started to unpack her kit from the metal locker next to her bed.

"Finn..." the nurse came around to him. "Full name, please."

Finn ran his tongue over the top of his teeth, staring out the health worker.

"Won't that do?" he muttered, avoiding Jean4280's curious stare. "You'll be getting my thumb print in a second anyways."

"Course it won't do! You trying to pass for alive or something?" the nurse snapped back. Then her face slipped a touch and she stopped that incessant chewing.

"I-I didn't mean anything by that, guy. It came out all wrong..." she stuttered.

Finn and the female Tallyman exchanged rapid glances. Flicking the plastic ID with his forefinger, Finn spun it around like a top, the holograms straining to keep his photo-image and serial numbers in focus.

"I don't need fucking reminding that I'm bloody dead, it says Recyc right here on the tag—just under my Company name. You wouldn't be palming us off with this third-class medical shite if we were living customers!"

He ripped back the thin bed sheet and wiggled his two new toes. They were black and slightly too large. Not black, bruised black, but Negro black. Finn's skin, although tanned by the wind and the sun from his many hours outside the city walls, was definitely Caucasian.

He scribbled the numbers '5612' after his given name. The 5612nd Finn registered as recycled on the Greater Mergers and Acquisitions Register. 5612 dead men, brought back to life again with an ironglass crown spiked speared into their brains, filling their minds with false identities and Company line values.

Jean4280 made spooky noises and stretched out her arms.

"Ooooo... Get down with the xombies!"

The nurse blanched and turned-tail, leaving the unfinished tally clipped to the foot of Finn's bed. The recycled pair laughed hysterically at her expense for a good five minutes, whilst they both got dressed.

Completing the form and thumbing it, Finn smiled at the female worker.

"Don't suppose you fancy..." he got out.

She shook her head a little too quickly.

"Ta, but I'm with someone at the moment... Fills the gaps between jobs, if you catch my drift."

They both laughed nervously. With someone.

Finn would have bet his weeks' wage that she was sleeping with some live stiff. Even the dead thought twice about screwing with the dead.

"No problem, girl," he said, as they both left the Refit hospital. The toes would have to do for the time being. He'd bargain a discount next time he was in. Who knew—he might just get a new fucking leg and sort the problem.

The corporate man-hunters both emerged into the neon mall, self-consciously adjusted their HeadSpace visors and went their separate ways, to avoid any more embarrassment. Pressing his visor to opaque and letting part of his consciousness slide into the numbing synth-muzak, he wound his way down from the seventy-third floor of Hurricane City to the Accelerator north... and home. The tag Finn had transferred to his coat glittered in the shop lights; cheap and gaudy. Occasionally someone would give him a funny glance, or walk around the space he was heading for. Despite human recycling being the law for the last seventeen years, normal folk were still none too comfortable at sharing their lives with the living dead.

Finn5612 was only 18 months old.

That was all the information the Company would give him. Like every other resurrected body in Hurricane City, he had no memory of who he had been, what he had been called, or how he had died. Neither did he have the right by Company Law to find these simple facts out. That was the deal with recycled men.

In the Great Credit Crash of 2052, what laughingly remained of the world's governments had folded like the piss-poor poker players they all were. Out of the 24 hours of bitter ashes, had risen the Pan-Corporations, the Global Conglomerates (who had been running the puppet show from behind the stage anyway,) here to save the world—for a reasonable fee, plus tax, plus 30% on the top, all with free airmiles and a brand new Citizen's ID.

Now everyone was a Company Man.

But in a country already blighted by thirty years of African Corporate wars, followed by human sterility problems and three cat flu pandemics, GB needed its living dead to fight, to police, to do its fucking shitty jobs. Hell, they had to recycle every other damn thing in this used up world, right down to the air, so what was so wrong with recycling valuable human cadavers?

As a study in the late 2080's had first pointed out, the wealth of raw materials, energy footprint and Corporate Dollartime invested in raising a human being, made Man the most expensive, least cost-effective thing produced on the planet today. So the Pan-Corporation law was passed to recycle the dead.

What few religious voices shouted out against this action were soon silenced. According to all current beliefs, once a corporate form died and its soul moved on, it became so much meat. Meat that could be refitted, a brain that could be lobotomised and an artificial Corporation-owned personality placed in the cadaver's head, via ironglass technology.

Investment repaid.

The books had to be balanced.

What the dead thought about all of this, was of no consequence whatsoever.

"And how did you feel about killing the woman by the sea wall?" the psychotherapist asked, in that sugary, disinterested way she always had. That they all always had.

"Not a lot. She'd just stuck me with a frigging D-blade, so I didn't have time for finesse. Could have been XNA'd or poisoned. Desperate felons don't give a tinker's cuss what they do to us Recycs. Anything to get the dead men off their cheap coat tails."

Finn lay on the soft couch, staring at the ceiling. Sixteen months of therapy later, it still needed repainting. That crack in the plaster between the light panel and the architrave was getting worse.

After a retrieval of a debt like his last one, the Company always insisted on a psych-evaluation. Not out of the kindness of their little Corporate hearts, rather as a way of protecting their assets. A recycled man was Credits in the bank. A sane recycled man, anyway.

The tiny box of a room had changed subtly since Finn's last session. It had become a sort of hobby with him, observing other people's trinkets. Feeding off other people's lives. Inset into the walls, the illuminated niches now contained a slim glass vase with a single modified rose in it, a polished pebble from the ancient Brighton beach, (now under twenty five foot of sea,) and a toy car made of metal and plastic, as bright as the day it had been made over 150 years before, excavated from one of the northern land-fill mines.

Such stuff was priceless in this sanitised age.

"Am I tickety-boo?" Finn finally interrupted the silence. The psych was too busy filling in her forms on a tabletop Babbage.

"Oh... Yes, you're clear," she muttered, abruptly realising he was still in the room. "Er, no more of those odd dreams, by-the-by?"

Finn shook his head, pulling a face.

"Fine. Same time next week?"

"Sure thing."

Outside the crumbling offices of the medical tower, the Tallyman finally let out his breath. Why he had just lied about the dreams, he wasn't really sure. Maybe it was some form of childish rebellion about spending his miserably short life being prodded and poked by disinterested Company payrollers.

Just a little secret to keep to himself. There was no harm in that... was there?

Hurricane City stretched above and below Finn like a forest of twinkling Christmas trees. Over the advertising slogans leaching out of moving billboards, and junk-media flash-operas starring the latest pneumatic Avatars, he tuned in to HeadSpace. He was still trussed up in his plum coloured, all-weather coat and a wide Spanish Salvador fedora pulled down to his eyes. Before him, his breath coalesced. Sometimes it was all he had to prove he was still alive... second time around.

The city was kept cold out of the balconies and walkways, to conserve energy. Its population huddled in wool and cotton garments, produced in the northern GB factories once again. Tall steaming chimneys reaching for the stars, after a century and a half hiatus in the Lancashire and Yorkshire valleys.

Energy efficiency = Home Grown.

China was so Turn-of-the-Century as a world supplier. India had had its day. The Americas were in a worse state than GB. Africa rose like an avenging angel, overpriced and over there; so GB had been forced to dig in and focused on the three things it did the best. Cheap manufacturing, queuing and complaining about the weather.

Amongst the bundled up forms of the city dwellers, dirty coloured balloon-shapes moved, bobbing up and down in a disconcerting way. These were Gonzos; multi-purpose flying robotic slaves. The eyes and ears of the Corporations. In a world where the birthrate had dropped to 0.7 per couple, Mankind needed these artificial drones to do the mindless work. And then there were the dead-men, of course. Most folk preferred the company of Gonzo-bots rather than Finn's kind.

The moving murals, wrapped around the fat towers of Hurricane, told a thousand tales of exotic climes and heterosexual relationships. Avatars of the perfect-looking guy and girl, selling you a new lifestyle. The golden city of Glasgow, with its sunny climate ten months of the year and newly opened recreational lakes, called out for custom. Finn had been there the previous year, after an identity fraudster. He had enjoyed the sunshine, but couldn't understand a word the bloody Jocks said.

As the Tallyman worked his way down the rubberised walkways that moved at a steady seven miles per hour into the Wheatsheaf district, the short hairs on the nape of his neck began to rise. Accentuated senses all quietly came on line like a dream. Someone was following him.

There was Maintenance Krew swinging from safety ropes high up above near the transparent membrane, which kept out the weather. Workers updating the superstructure of the city's neon-arteries, 25/7. Humans in simpatico harmony with heavy-lifting Gonzos, constantly rebuilding Hurricane City. They were its invisible electric-blood. A man could drop two hundred feet on a spider-rope in six seconds, if he was skilled enough. If someone were marking him, that was where the attack would come from.

That's the way Finn would do it.

But no attack came. He drew his overcoat closer and pushed passed the slowstrollers on the moving sidewalk, now anxious to get home.

Home was a living cube on the outskirts of the Wheatsheaf area. Prefabricated units, stacked deep and high like old truck containers, strapped together by plastic I-beams and cross-struts. You got in to a communal corridor by dropping down a vacuum chute and landing like a cat—once you'd given the peeper your thumb.

It was quick, and it was clean—most of the time. Finn felt a modicum of gratitude that the Napoleon hi-rizers were barely twenty-five years old. Condensation was removed by an antique aircon system and the smell varied, depending on what day of the week it was. Today, Wednesday, the hi-rize had that familiar nosegay of madras curry with a little undertone of shoe polish.

And the phantom shit-signer had been writing in his own bodily waste on the main corridor again. If Finn ever caught the little fucker, he'd feed the Meep's plums into the mouth of his Salamander and pull the sodding trigger.

Inside his hermetically sealed cube, the Tallyman shed his outdoor clothes. Heat and light responded as he locked the sliding door behind him. It was chilly, as usual, but he kept the thermostat low to save on utility bills. Even below the legal levels.

Then, a dead man always preferred to be cold, so the urban myth went.

"Office, I'm off for the night," Finn said down HeadSpace.

"Book closed, my best boy," chatted his handler in her usual central-city drawl. "Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs byte."

He snorted at her cheap little jokes and un-jacked his visor from the implant behind his right ear. Peace. Detachment. The illusion of freedom.

His Mural, a slim, wafer thin thing on the one free wall that wasn't studded with storage niches, showed the constant stream of news-sport-porn that flowed like molasses from the city's central WAXnervous system. He'd managed to disable the sound five months before, and so far he'd neither been fined or had a repairman land on him.

There was too much electronic and living noise in the city. Finn enjoyed the silently moving mouths of the media-strippers and rollerball-jocks. Sometimes they made him laugh with their agonised expressions. Mostly, it allowed him to read in peace. Then there were the nubile pop-bubble-sex Avatars, each one hiding some scrawny, no-hope Citizen, living out a fantasy life on everyone's Mural wall.

The Tallyman just found the whole confusion... sad.

The niches in his walls contained recycled books and magazines. Finn lived on books. It was a common fixation for a Recyc, his shrink informed him. For a man with only eighteen months of memories, the hunger to absorb information was quite natural. He read anything and everything.

So what was the whole pet-thing about? Was that a dead hang-up too?

 [ Doggy, © 2009, Carmen ] Pride of place in his living cube was a picture of a dog that he'd hard-copied from the Mural during an infomercial about extinct species. He liked the look of that dog, all small and bedraggled, with one black ear pointing up in an interested sort of way and a black patch around the opposite bright eye. He kept it leaning in a niche all by itself. Why, he wasn't sure.

Whether he had had a dog himself when he had been alive, sometime back in his distant childhood, he could never know. Access to past lives was against too many laws to count. But the times were right for a dog back then. It was before the first devastating wave of cat flu and the animal genocide orders.

Now only mad, rich old ladies had pets, locked away with them in luxury accommodations. Old folk's restraining-homes, bricked up from the outside world.

Finn always wondered what it would be like to pat a dog. It was something that stuck with him... even in his dreams.

The only furniture he had in his cube was an inflatable red plastic recliner chair and two tables. One to eat off, the other with an inset Babbage to latch on to sounds and stories and sexual fantasies. Whatever passed for infotainment these days.

The Tallyman dumped his roll of keys and his HeadSpace visor on the Babbage tabletop, as it floated over to his chair. Neon squares were drawn around the two objects and they interfaced. The keys were re-coded and the visor charged, as he pulled a book from one wall niche in preparation for the evening ahead.

On entering his cube, the preprogrammed kitchen had been preparing his night-meal. Something that tasted like fish and potatoes, but seeing as the last fish to come out of the North Sea had been over thirty years ago, it was the usual textured Soya creation. But the carton that came out of the kitchen serving hatch—now that was the pukka stuff.

A litre of Old Crow malt whisky sat next to the square paper plate and plastic spoon. Finn spent a third of his disposable income on alcohol; a not uncommon luxury for the recycled. He slowly poured three fingers into the thin plastic tumbler and smelt the kick with his eyes tightly shut. The familiar odour did... something inside his tired brain. Was that the phantom of a memory?

Three hours from now, with a cocktail of painkillers, the whisky would make him sleep. It was an oblivion he looked forward to every night. So he stirred the fake fishy meal back into the sludge it probably came from, and took his first drink of the evening.

The little dog barked with the sound turned right down. A mummer's play along the coastal path, as a chubby young hand threw a stick for the little, scruffy quadruped, time after time...

Just out of his wide-eyed vision, Finn knew mum and dad were there. They had to be there.

Then he was back in that bed again... Real sheets... Real window looking out across the sea, as a silent sun set on the repeat-dream. The blur came into his room, right on time. A faceless woman, (Still smiling despite the fact she had no mouth,) straightened the covers and shooed the little dog off the bed.

Then the kiss.

Even in his drunken sleep, the tears ran wet down his cheeks as he remembered the goodnight kiss. Then that hug, as warm as any Glaswegian day.

Now he was alone in a small red boat. Rising and falling with the tide as he slipped silently through sunken streets. Looking over the side, through crystal clear sea, he thought he could see lions, snarling underwater.

Morning came too soon.

Inside Finn's head, the alarm sounded with the sfx of a flock of geese passing above. It was meant to conjure up pictures of clear blue skies and heather-covered mountains. But all the recycled man could bring to mind were the endless lines of wind farms across the top of the cotton plantations of Scotland.

Finn took a pill to clear the dregs of a hangover, deciding to skip breakfast. Moving to the small sink and mirror in one corner, he stared at the glazed eyes of his reflection. The slightly oval face stared back, a little too heavy on the jowls, of an indeterminate age. The telltale lobotomy scar just under the dark hairline. The dark ringed eyes from too little sleep... was this what he had always looked like? He'd never really know how much plastic surgery he'd been given... once he was dead.

Smearing his jaw with depilatory cream, he winced slightly. His shoulder was still stiff where he had been stabbed, even though Refit should have put that right the previous day. He took a few more pills, then checked that the morphine shunt embedded in his right side read full.

No pain today.

The whisper of the little dog danced in the rear of his brain and he tenderly picked up the picture he'd printed out. What was its name? Was that dream just a fantasy of his refurbished mind, as all the psych's told him? Because there should be no way he had retained some of his original memories.

But it was so Jeesus damn real...

Plugging back into HeadSpace and holstering his Salamander, he slipped on his outdoor coat and went to see what joys the new Corporate day would bring. Two minutes later, he was fighting for his second-life.

The recycled woman must have followed him all the way back to Napoleon Hi-rizers. He should have obeyed his instinct and reported a suspect-tail to the Office the previous evening. As he shot out of the vacuum tube from his home, she dropped down behind him, slipping a garrote neatly over his head. Her knee in the small of his back applied the right leverage as the microthin wire began to decapitate him.

HeadSpace fired data into his suffocating brain, skimming information from the ID tag swinging from a chain on her waistcoat... most of which had been erased with acid. The usual ploy of a Citizen gone bad.

The same day as his own artificial personality.

The thin steel band under the skin of his neck held, as the woman began to strain and sweat, even though he was bleeding furiously. It had been well worth the money, Finn thought, in a detached sort of way. He swung around and caught his attacker three sharp jabs in the ribs with his right elbow. On the third hit, something snapped. She let out a stifled cry.

No morphine shunt then, he added this to his growing knowledge.

Now, why the fuck was there a Delete out on him?

Finn's HeadSpace jack worked overtime, linking his ironglass implant to the Office, with a call for aid. Lurching back, his head collided with hers and there was another satisfactory crunch as he smashed her nose. She dropped the garrote and went stumbling away, temporarily blinded.

His hand fluttered over the stock of his Salamander, but to shoot the attacker now meant loosing whatever instructions she was carrying in her ironglass memory.

FaceFitt.Co software rapid-fired through the city's peeper vaults and back out via the Office. No ident came back. She'd had enough skills to fiddle with the security network and make herself invisible. If only she'd speak so that he could get her voiceprint.

"Why did you let him out that day?" his attacker suddenly shouted nasally at him. He'd broken her nose and she was spluttering through a tide of blood.

"What? What the fuck are you talking about, girl?" Finn grunted back.

She suddenly drew her own Salamander and let off a clumsy incendiary shot. A fat Gonzo-bot behind Finn went up in flames, as he dropped flat to the walkway.

"Goody... Another Tallyman..." he muttered.

With a head-rush, her ID finally came through.

"Farmers?" he ranted to himself. "What the deuce did I ever do to the farmers?"

So it was guns then, in a crowded part of the city. Fucking brilliant—more damned fines.

He flipped out his own Salamander and lobbed a fat pellet into the thing's every-hungry mouth. Debbie8082 must have known she was finished, but she still fumbled to load her own weapon again.

Eyeball shot.

The recycled plastic pellet, made from compressed supermarket carrier bags exhumed from one of numerous landfill mines, shot out of the business end of his gun and hit its target true. Straight through her right eye and out of the back of her skull, to loose its momentum and bounce down over the balcony into the gulf between the round towers.

She fell to her knees, one hand fluttering to the hole where her eye used to be. Head slumping forward; there was pink stuff oozing out of the exit wound in the back of her skull. The glint of an ironglass prong visible through the hole.

"Why me?" Finn asked the woman, dying for a second time. "Why Delete me?"

She suddenly threw back her head, her face covered in a death mask of her own blood. Fixing him with her one good eye, he could see the pupil expanding as her life energies slipped away.

"You left the damn gate open..." she slurred, and then fell over sideways, stone dead.

The Tallyman paced around her body for a full thirty seconds, tight-lipped and still full of pumped-adrenaline. There was a flock of Gonzo-bots huddled together like a bunch of kids' balloons, blinking at him. They'd have already beamed this kill in. The regular Politz would be on their way, drowning him in red tape and fines. Early morning walkers moved around him and the fresh kill, not saying a word, wide-eyed with ashen coloured faces, doing what a Citizen did best—ignoring a bad situation.

"Office. Respond, Office. Finn5612 reporting an attempted Deletion," he croaked into his HeadSpace, dabbing at the slice around his neck with a bloodied tissue.

"Logging on, Finn5612. Report victim's ID," came the familiar vanilla voice of his handler, Kassandra.

"Me..." he muttered back, still on edge.

He calmed himself down a touch before running off a tight verbal report, whilst he waited for the Politz. He could already hear the lazy sirens closing in from the west. Somewhere in the convoluted, slightly half-baked city nervous system was a kill-order from another Company. He had to find out who they were and nix it, quickly.

A Tallyman with debts owed, was a corpse waiting to happen.

Lack of Funds = Recyc.

Looking nervously about, Finn slipped a coil of microfibre from his coat pocket. He plugged one of the shoelace ends into a jack on his HeadSpace visor. Squatting down, he did the same with the dead woman's visor. Now that both the cellular and ironglass portions of her brain had ceased functioning, her mental transmissions had stopped. She was just a corpsicle with a very expensive Babbage machine in her head.

Quickly, he siphoned all the girl's personal biog into his own ironglass implant and hastily pulled out the wire. By the time the rent-a-cops arrived at the scene to reclaim Debbie8082, the Tallyman was three city towers away and breaking into her living cube.

It was as bland as his own, which didn't surprise him. She would have been on a similar weekly stipend as him and housed in a district that was predominately occupied by Recycs. Xombie ghettos, the infofeed called them. But Finn hadn't been expecting the mess he found.

The place had been trashed. Wall niches, once filled with books and mags, emptied and in some cases parts of the wall removed, to bleed fibreglass insulation. Furniture, what little there was of it, had been smashed to pieces and the Mural had been burned off the wall. In the half melted scorch mark which marked the screen's position, was a familiar spray painted symbol.

The red, white and blue eye of Ra.

It didn't fit. Why would any other Corporation target such a low-level Tallyman as himself? Could this Debbie8082 have been an urban terrorist?

Vigilance + Company Loyalty = Safe

Ra was the most prominent of current GB counter-Kulture organisations. The long haired eco-fighters, determined to bring back a people's government of elected citizens, rather than the Company Law that now ran 97.7% of the world's Citizens, were into big gestures—not petty vandalism and pointless executions.

He swept the single room for DNA trace, using a standard crime scene-peeper. The machine chuckled and murmured to itself for a few minutes, whilst Finn trod carefully through the debris, looking for some other clue to this mess.

What had she meant by her dying words? "You left the damn gate open..."

The word 'gate' often had a historical connection to one of the old Thames Barriers. The second barrier was built in 2043, both old and new eventually failing to prevent the greater city of London being flooded by the rising sea levels. It was an old urban myth that some sick joker left the gates open in the last barrier on April 1st 2052, letting in billions of gallons of ocean. The flooding of London beginning the Great Credit Crash, as all the world's financial markets went down simultaneously.

Gate... Was this some sort of code phrase connected with the terrorist cell, Ra?

He picked up a large piece of Debbie8082's Babbage table. The same model as his own, BlackApple5.2. There were bits and pieces of useless information still salvageable, which he could just about call to the surface. The clock was ticking and the Office would be wondering what the fuck he was about.

She had been a drama addict. There was a library of over six thousand episodes of various soapfantasy shows. She liked sweetstuff.

Then something caught his eye underneath the rest of the shattered interface table. The slip of paper almost obscured by the wreckage made him suddenly chill. He reached out and picked up the downloaded picture. It was the same image of a little black and white dog that he had in his own living cube.

"Not. Possible," he mumbled to himself.

The crime-scene peeper broke his concentration and announced it had finished. Debbie8082 was a lonely girl. Only her DNA was all around the ransacked living cube. Which left Finn with the only one conclusion. She had trashed the place herself.

Getting out of there fast, before the commercial Politz got there, he tied in to the Company she had been registered with. That farmer's outfit, RedAcreFarmingCo-op. They were pretty helpful. Their girl had gone off the board about eleven hours previously, probably sticking a screwdriver or something long and metallic into the back of her head to sever her ironglass connections with all peeper facilities. Not the easiest thing to do, especially when she had no morphine shut. It must have hurt like hell.

He bowed out of the conversation when the farmers' Office began to ask awkward questions and left the usual call sign to connect to his own Company, Xiang&Whitechapel. Let the cybernetic offices baffle each other with a ring-around of Company-to-Company enquiries.

The picture of the little dog bugged him the most. The odds against both of them liking, then printing out a hardcopy of, the same pic were astronomical. Kassandra at his Office was still on HeadMail, as she tried to untangle the red tape spewing out across the void from his attack, so she had no work for him. No corporate job was bad—it gave him too much time to think. So he moved through the shopping halls, being towed by the tide of humanity, until he settled in a HeadSpace cafe-booth, overlooking the vast sea of brightly coloured market stalls in New Camden.

"CocaCoffee?" meeped the Gonzo-waiter, scanning Finn's ID where all his likes and dislikes were stored.

"Aye," he responded, already people-watching through the dusty, scratched bombproof windows. Kassandra was still on HeadMail. He mused with the idea of dialing up some soft porn, but it was a little early in the day for that, and he was more in a killing mood.

It was whilst he was on his third CocaCoffee with extra-cream and sweetstuff, when the second would-be assassin tracked him down. This one was even stranger than the first, as this Recyc was not even a Tallyman. He obviously worked in the city's ancient sewers, as he was still dressed in a bulky plastic suit, marked with the stains of his trade.

Finn saw the man in the dayglo-yellow coverall striding through the throng of midday shoppers half a tower away. He stood out in his working clothes amongst the coats 'n' hats brigade, as people parted in front of him, holding their noses. Hardhat pulled low, the figure just kept on coming like some Gonzo. Somehow, the Tallyman knew the sewer-rat was coming for him.

The guy was also holding a long, rusting carving knife in one hand. Landfill treasure or looted from one of London's sunken museums, the effect on the shoppers was still the same—Total. Panic.

The sewer-rat began shouting something and pointing at Finn with the old knife, but as his plastic helmet was still over his head, beneath the hard-hat, the Tallyman couldn't hear a fucking deuce word he was saying.

This time he gave this nutcase no second chances. Loading his Salamander with a handful of plastic cutlery from the table, he stood his ground until the last minute, as the beefy looking assailant closed the gap between them. With about five meters to go, Finn raised his pistol, aimed and fired.

The plastic knives and forks peppered the fat man in the yellow baggy suit, making him stop dead.

"Ow..." Finn heard him exclaim, quite clearly this time.

"What contract have you picked up? What Company has pressed Delete?" he barked at the sewer worker.

"He was only little... He didn't know the danger..." Ross7707 winged, pulling out the bloodied missiles from his chest.

Finn fired a second barrage at the man.

"Who was little? What the fuck are you talking about, guy?"

The man raised his knife, a look of pure hatred painted on his face.

"Scruffy..." he mouthed, just before Finn sent a third set of cutlery through the transparent facemask. Ross7707 staggered sideways, shoving several round booth tables out of the way, before collapsing into a large palm plant.

As Finn siphoned the twice-dead man's personal biog from his brain, as he had his first attacker, his jack buzzed frantically. Now the Office woke up. Finn popped transmission and put himself on HeadMail. He could imagine Kassandra's sculptured face, bright with indignation. The clock was ticking... he had no time for protocol when his own neck was on the block. And here came the wail of the ruddy Politz again.

The sewer-rat's cube was smaller than either of the Tallyman's. It too had been totally wrecked. But the man had gone one further and smeared human excrement all over the walls and floor. Finn wondered if he was any relation to the sod that regularly redecorated his home corridor. Guess he had been up to his chest in shit most of his short, new life and it had seemed the right thing to do. Again, with the Egyptian eye in Union Jack colours on one wall.

This was making zero sense.

In this cube, there was no picture of the dog. Finn kicked bits of ripped furniture aside in a desperate search for that one connection. Perhaps this was a separate attack. But then why the vandalism and the eye on the wall?

Finally, he found it. A screwed up ball of paper in one littered corner. He knew what the picture was before he straightened it out, but the laughing face of the little dog with its lolling tongue and cockeyed ear looked up at him. Same dog. Same picture.

"He didn't know the danger..."

"Scruffy..." Finn heard himself say.

The dog's name... some damn dog's name was Scruffy. And he had belonged to Finn in his original life. How he knew that, was impossible to guess at. How his two wannabe assassins knew was an even bigger puzzle.

His HeadSpace buzzed like an angry bee in his brain, the Office wanting to know where the fuck he was and what he was doing. No point in making stuff up. They could patch into his ironglass's peeper as easy as spit. Coming off HeadMail, he faced the music.

"You have a second corpsicle on Camden and Fifteenth?" his handler had a panic attack. "What are you doing to me, Finn? The fines! The crudding fines!"

Calming Kassandra down, he told the more-than-slightly peeved handler the half-truth. That both his attackers were Ra sympathisers and he had illegally examined their homes. That this could be the beginning of another Piccadilly Circus riot if they were not fucking careful.

Kassandra shut up and faded away with this inspired piece of fiction, presumably to talk to her boss. But the pushy mare would be bending his brain again soon. Finn had left out the bit about the dog, of course.

All he had to do now was find out what connected the three of them and what an image-library picture of a mongrel pup had to do with anything, before some other head case tried to Delete him. In the metallic tabletop, he caught sight of his own reflection and realised what a mess he looked. He had to get off the streets and think.

Signing himself off the book, he made a beeline to the usual Soho-bar.

The Tallyman had always liked the skin-palaces. Primarily because they were kept warm to stop the sex-workers breaking out in goosebumps every five minutes, and there were other bonus attractions too. Heading for the washroom, he shed his outdoor coat, then spent ten minutes soaking his pale grey shirt in the sink, until most of the blood washed out of it.

No one eyeballed him as he cleaned up his neck wound and covered it with a quick spray of plastic skin from a pencil-aerosol. Once, he'd had to sew part of his left arm back on, out there in the ruins of Old London. A Tallyman soon became expert at DIY surgery, until he could get booked in to a company Refit hospital. All part of the cruddy job.

Julie was waiting for him when he left the blue tiled men's' room and walked back into the hot tangerine lights of the palace. Julie Francisco was a sex-worker whom he'd got to know quite well over the last year. Not so much a friend, more a regular client. She used to be a doctor, but the pay for taking off her clothes for horny office workers doing lunch, and loveless dead guys, was far superior. She also had a clinical mind for all things recycled.

Over two hot rums and zucchinis, he told her everything that had happened that day,

"And all three of you have the same initialisation date?" she said.

"Jun8/2102. I was guessing either a virus has been introduced into the ironglass interface, or we're all part of a bad recycle batch."

"No way. The RoseLang system has over seventy separate sieves and antibody crèches. You've got to remember, you Tallymen and all low-paid maintenance workers are second-generation recycled cadavers. RoseLang built up the business by supplying hard-to-kill cannon fodder for the African corporate wars waaay before the process was legalised. Plus, there's no such thing as a bad batch... But something sure as fuck has happened."

The good-looking brunette dressed in two tassels and a thong, slipped on her heavy vary-focal glasses and promptly borrowed Finn's visor. The Babbage table they were sitting at cleared as she placed the hardware on its glass surface. Strings of microsoftware lights began to draw tracer patterns around the HeadSpace interface.

"I guess you illegally downloaded stuff from both attackers brains?" she chattered, tassels swinging enthusiastically as her fingers ran over a lightkeyboard projected inside the glass tabletop.

"Of course. What I could get out in a flash, anyhow."

Finn hunched forward on the padded seat. He felt oddly nervous. He was never nervous.

"When they brought me back..." he began, tentatively. "When they bring any of us back, what are the chances of us retaining some of our original memories?"

"Absolutely none," Julie replied, quite emphatically. "This process has been in the public domain for over fifteen years. RoseLang was producing corpsicles—as you were so delicately known as back in those days—in secret for twenty years before, via the African Corporations. The successful recycling of a human being moved in tandem with silicon-protein breeding—that's growing the ironglass daggers that have been spiked into your brain. We called it 'the crown of thorns' in the trade. You should really grab a copy of my first book, 'Playing God'. WAXprint hold it on memory. I go into detail about which parts of the brain are surgically removed upon death, to fit the crown before initiating a new persona-map..."

"I think I'll pass on that," Finn paled slightly, cutting her off.

Julie tapped the table and moved lumps of hyper-compressed information bubbles as she babbled on. She rarely got the opportunity to prove she had a mind in her current trade. The strains of remixed 2030 garage-classical strings drifted through the red-lit pleasure rooms as the ex-doctor got into her tutorial.

"Listen." Finn tried not to be rude. "I really just need the basics." He tried to stem the verbal tide, but Julie was enjoying herself. "So could my dreams be ghost-memories of my original life?"

She shook her head.

"As I keep saying, dumbo, the portions of your brain that retains long term memories were either surgically sliced or lasered away when you were on the table. I wish I could show you a real crown of thorns being inserted into a cadaver's cranium. It's a thing of beauty. But these days, that sort of stuff is all jobbed-out to Gonzo body shops. The original RoseLang operating theatres have long been shut down... another reason why I ended up here."

She finally stopped her fingers tapping on the tabletop and sat back, a puzzled look on her face. Before her, two groups of memory-files had been stacked in the holographic screen set into the table Babbage.

"Odd, that. These engrams have all got bad encryption dates on them. Both your attackers whole persona-command systems have degraded... It started about 13 hours ago. Could be a sloppy reincarnation after all. The tales I could tell you about some of these body shops..!"

She tapped the offending engrams with her index finger, to try and encourage them to open up. They looked like little coloured bubbles bobbing in two groups. They flexed and moved around within themselves, but refused to open.

"Thought so. They're buggered," she said, finally.

"That will be a medical term then."

Julie grinned at him. That was one of the things she liked about Finn, above all the other dead clients she had. Somehow he'd retained a sense of humour.

"Shut up. These are foreign thought engrams. Ideas... or memories. But they've been corrupted and got lodged within each of your insane attackers' minds. I can't read them on this toy interface here—it mostly deals with porn, day in, day out. Wasn't installed for heavy cerebral diagnostics. But I can tell you both degraded bubble groups are identical. Could be some sort of fetish implant that didn't take... or maybe they've both been subjected to a large electric shock at some point during reanimation."

"Both of them?"

"Highly unlikely, I know. But these alien engrams got in there somehow."

She tidied up the electronic table and passed Finn's visor back to him. So now he knew both his assailants had one thing in common—bad thoughts messing with their heads.

"Where could I open these engrams and read them?"

She pulled a face. "Used to be all done at RoseLang. As I said, the work was all sent out for tender three... no four years ago now. I'd have to identify the body shop that worked on all three of you and talk to them. Though how you're going to explain where you got two other persona-maps from, I don't know."

"I skate a thin line..." Finn smiled mysteriously.

He got up to go, scratching at his crew cut, when Julie caught him gently by one arm.

"Can I interest you in a little executive stress relief, guy, whilst the house computer tracks down whatever copyright glyphs it can find in your three persona-maps?" She grinned at him, coyly.

"Ah, well... What the hay..." Finn took off his coat and smiled back at her.

Two minutes later they were hot and naked in Julie's room, conducting other business.

He was in that boat again, with person or persons unknown... drifting with the receding tide through the artificial canyons of flooded Old London. This was it... This was the place... Cautiously, he looked down into the water to see if they were there. Lions beneath the sea foam.

But this time, only his reflection looked back. He had long hair, like a democrat. His nose was thinner and there was something different about his jaw line. Dressed in a combat jacket with a fat laser slung over his shoulder.

Then someone spoke a name...

 [ Sewage Worker, © 2009, Carmen ]

Read the second and final part of ‘The Recycled Man’

© 2009 Rob Sharp

Comment on the stories in this issue on the TFF Press blog.

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