To get out, first I got to get in.
I’m Rider and I’m one of the dregs, one of millions, packed into the trashure tunnels several hundred feet below the landfill upside. Our greater granpappys and granmammys dug looking for wealth and without wising up they built the meatslums.
Even here, in the dirt and damp, there are nets. The only escape from packed human flesh in the dark is to expand inward. That means illegal wetware, quantum-conduit secure. That means getting jacked and going for a ride.
Most dregs would risk everything for the chance to ride the nets. Some rail against the Upsiders and spend their whole life wishing it was different, they dream and wish for a life they will never be allowed to have. They hate and seek solace in the ganghood. They want to get more than what they have and so they plan raids and sabotage and kidnappings. Some even go through with their plans and end up dumb dead.
The Upsiders don’t want us getting out. They have better tech and better food, hell, they even see the sun.
There’s no point wishing things were different. Flesh-on-flesh fighting will ever work: we’re not strong enough, we’re not armed enough, we’re not bloodthirsty enough. I want to get out, not get even. There are others in our ganghood who think like me: seventeen families spread over six generations.
I pitted my shuntless skills against the other meatbrain techheads of the seventeen and I won. I never doubted it for a picosecond, hell, I suckled tech at my mammy’s tit. She didn’t name me Rider for nothing.
I won and so I risked everything: I put my meatbrain in the hands of a backstreet shuntbutcher. My hard earned skills prior to the shunt are transferable, and now, with the shunt I’ll be able to interface magnitudes of times faster. I’ll need all the edge I can get.
The slice is the best computer hardware two years worth of rooting toil can build. We are deep, where the sunlight never shines, where generations live and die, scrounging an existence from what the Upsiders throw away. There’s still trashure to be found and we dig new tunnels every day. We are dregs, true, but we are determined and will not be defeated. The seventeen’s vision of getting out is passed down from oldster to newborn, just like the components used to build the slice.
Duel, the latest addition to the seventeen, was born fifteen minutes before I went into the shuntbutcher’s shop. I vowed that I’d do anything to give her something better than what we have. She isn’t going to scurry, or be as pale, hungry or diseased as us. My last op and my final piece of wetware: the shunt itself, the hole into the meat. The operating theatre is a back room with a stained and mouldy couch in the middle. I recovered quickly because the seventeen give me the best of everything. They went without food and medicine so that I could ride.
As I walked to the slice, all eyes watched me. All six generations present to offer their support, speak to me, touch me. Their eyes full of hope and fear and doubt and jealousy and other things that I did not recognise. We all knew how impossible my task is, how remote the possibility of success. If I’m backtraced, we would all die together.
I had no doubt and did not wish to back out. There really was no choice. This was the best, and only, chance in a generation. Who wouldn’t grab such a chance with both hands and wring it for just one measly moist drop of something better?
On the chair beside the slice, I closed my eyes and turned my neck to the right, exposing the shunt. When I’m jacked my body will be a shell. The seventeen will feed it and keep it clean.
Granpappy Suede’s rough fingers felt hot against my skin but the needle was cold when he pushed it into my meatbrain.
Connections were made as the implants rerouted my sensory input. Supplementary siliconbrains in the slice would take most of the processing load. From now on, everything that I saw and heard and felt would be rendered directly onto the meatbrain. Full sense-around. I’ve been told some wetheads upside can’t tell real life from net life, their tech is so good. Idiots.
My eyes shut down and my skin stopped feeling the chair under me. I floated, all senses suspended. I’d never known such darkness, such calm.
And then, far away in the subjective distance a dot grew and by degrees the darkness was banished. It felt as if I rushed towards the light, but it was the light that rushed towards me.
And, at last, sweet light, I was in.
Now all I had to do was find the way out.