they are not human

they are not human

genre: cyberpunk
style: novel
In the technocratic slums of a city once called New York, a deadly conspiracy is unfolding, and Miles Novak—a down-on-his-luck Body Whore who woke up with bullets in his gut and a 78-hour black hole in his memory—is at the center of it all. This love letter to cyberpunk boasts a cast of characters straddling the border between interesting and insane, from unicorn-onesie-wearing, submachine-gun-toting bounty hunters to a digital mutant who communes with subway systems to find people who’d rather not be found.

The penthouse in D-Class district’s shittiest complex boasted a square footage most corner-whores wouldn’t so much as spit at, but it was a palace compared to the hovels battling for room on the forty-four stories between it and the street.

It had two windows. A full-sized fridge. Enough exposed floor between mattress and doormat to at least give the illusion of space—a space littered with mounds of motherboards and metal; empty Chinese takeout cartons and stained dollar-store chopsticks; the corpse of a man and the small sea of blood oozing from its gut wound.

The body soaked up the computer array’s bluelight as if it were the sun: he, the booze-soaked tourist, and the apartment, the best beach money could buy.

Only there was no sand.

No warmth.

No gulls gulling or waves waving, because gulls were extinct and waves might as well be, too, dry and fickle and lifeless as its oceans were now, struggling just as much as the earth to survive in the brave new world. On the east wall above a sink decorated with dirty dishes, an antique poster shouted the amenities of a beach such as that analogized—Drink in the Miami Coast, it beckoned, bolstered none too subtly by the image of a bikinied bleach-blonde guzzling a daquiri—but its vibrant oranges and blues were made dull by dust, the very texture of the paper softened by time’s cruel moving-on. It was a relic, just like the vintage answering machine was a relic. The one perched on the edge of an otherwise shattered glass coffee table, waiting to fulfill a duty it rarely had a chance to fulfill as the phone rang, and rang, and rang.

The corpse didn’t seem to be in the mood for social calls.

On the ninth ring the voicemail took up arms, manning frontlines its owner could defend no longer. It offered a hearty beeeeeeeeeeeep to the dead man’s dead ears. Durosteel walls and metaglass windows absorbed the sound, turning it around and vomiting it back into the silence of Room 1-45.

A red light flicked on. Static crackled on the line, underscored by breath until breath finally stumbled into words.

‘I was hoping I could talk you out of it. Looks like I’m too late.’

The red light blinked on, off, on, off, punctuating the pregnant pause festering through the speakers. Emotion bled into the white noise in the same way oncoming tears thickened the throat. Raw. Anxious. Desperate and uncontrollable, unlocking doors to higher octaves marked ‘for emergency use only.’

‘It’s all over the newsreel. No one knows what’s going on. It’s chaos out here. Fuckin’ chaos. Your face is plastered on every holoboard between Harlem Hall and Times Square and the city’s on lockdown. Curfew, patrols, containment crews, everything. They’re calling it a terrorist attack.’

A deep, shuddering pause threatened to crack the answering machine in two.

‘God, Miles,’ the voice gasped. ‘What have you done?’

An end-of-call beep cut off what would have been a sob. The red light went black. A green light turned on. Quiet settled back into place, re-staking its claim over the battlefield of broken glass and gore. Over the stained sheets; over the burnt-out mainframes and cobalt blue monitors screaming ERROR in big block letters, running lines of reparative code in attempts to fix themselves but ending each instance with FAILED—FAILED—FAILED.

For a long, long time, all was still in Room 1-45.

And then the dead man woke up.