Dashel’s First Day – pt 1

Barney called it his apartment, an old, single-wide mobile home, no longer mobile, blocked up in back of Mrs. Palmer’s house. Still in decent shape inside and out, it had its own gravel driveway curving in from the street with a rickety carport at its terminus. Reasonable rent and relative privacy were the dwelling’s defining features.

His place was a short free-run from the quad I was housed in—out the third-floor bathroom window, a quarter mile of some technical stuff, and finally pachinko down the spreading arms of an old sycamore into the Palmer’s back yard. Hard left to Barney’s door.

I guess it’s safe to say I spent a fair amount of my free time there. For one thing, Barney had actual furniture. The tip-out on the port side of his immobile home was filled to capacity by a huge sofa with recliners on either end and a long coffee table I don’t think I’ve ever seen the top of.

He’d covered the opposite wall and window with sheets of plywood, then mapped that surface with circuited polycarbonate. It mimics the feed from any foldie linked in proximity. We could lounge in the evenings when Barney wasn’t working and watch any of our subscriptions, play games, or pick and choose from a library of content most of those plugged into vee would dismiss as “one-dimensional”.

Neither Barney, nor I, had any use for cloud people. For us it was never a religious thing—I’m not even sure we could be accused of being religious in a colloquial sense—it’s just that we were never keen to be sleepwalkers.

Early morning light filtered through a dirty window in the little booth between the galley and the “family room”. The booth sports a table bracketed to the wall on one end and supported by a drop-down leg on the other. Bench seats on either side await, their tired cushions covered in fabric with a festive pattern. I sat with my back to the kitchenette where, behind me, the compact range and a hotbox crowded a minimalist countertop.

Barney sat across from me, bleary-eyed, his hair splayed out like a radiation-mutated starfish with extra arms at weird angles. He slurped something green and repulsive from a mug, and his arm draped with casual intimacy around the shoulders of Mrs. Palmer’s daughter, Brenda.

Pretty little thing in a pudgy, budding, jailbait fashion, I guess.

Brenda had sashayed into our morning a few minutes ago wearing silky pajamas designed to cover everything and hide nothing. Snuggled into the crook of Barney’s arm, she was nursing coffee, eyeing me with a kind of vacant disinterest.

I remember I was spooning up the last of some unsatisfying, half-soggy, cardboard cereal and asked, “Your mom concerned you’re out here?” as though I were concerned.

“You mean dressed like this?” She squared her shoulders for better effect. “She probably would be, but she took her meds last night. Won’t wake up for another couple hours.”

She’d already taken time to apply makeup. Still kind of new at it, but a sincere effort at least. She sipped her coffee, other hand underneath the table. She nestled against him and smiled up at me with ingénue eyes. “We have plenty of time.”

“Well, that’s nice,” I said and sidled out of the confinement to rinse my bowl in the sink, still hungry.

Brenda had discovered Barney’s abode hospitable shortly after he moved in. There was an obvious primitive chemistry at work between them, but all she’d ever done for me was act the tease. She seemed to enjoy testing her awkward, blossoming allure on me. Dog knows why.

I cracked the fridge, finished off the rest of a carton of something fruity, and tossed the container in the recycle hopper. I found a breakfast pocket and slipped it into the hotbox.

I could see Brenda silently trying to coax Barney to come with her to the back of the trailer, but he wasn’t finished with his healthy breakfast sludge yet and hadn’t moved much more than his eyebrows, lips, and left forearm in the last several minutes.

I tapped a command on the hotbox control surface and let it go to work.

Barney gave a supple contour an appreciative squeeze. She slapped at his hand as if to brush it away, then closed hers over his and purred.

“Sorry, darlin’,” he said. “Not this morning. “Dash and I have work,” he said. “We’ve got to get ready to go.”

He lifted his hand away from her to scratch his head with a crackle of static.

She sniffed him. “You can’t go like that. You need a shower.” She retrieved his hand and pressed it to her. “Come on, I’ll soap your back for you real quick. Or, you know, whatever.”

I could literally see his resolve begin to dissolve.

“No can do, hotpants.” He shook his head. “Not today. I’d love that. You know I would, right? But Dash and I seriously cannot be late today. C’mon, scootch over.”

He hip-bumped her toward the aisle.

Frowning now at Barney’s apparent insensitivity, she hitched up her indignation to leave in what I could only characterize as a snit. Standing, she hailed him with several choice names reserved for the tragically disenfranchised among her social strata. The little girl already knows how to cut a fella.

Unprepared for her thespian departure, I found myself crowding the narrow space, blocking a flouncing exit that would have been suitably melodramatic had it been unimpeded. My presence earned me a scalding glare.

I put my back to the fridge allowing her room to brush past. Instead, she faced me and smeared herself across me in a slow, rhythmic undulation, her hair soft and fragrant in my face, her hand trailing across the front of my pants.

“Eunuch,” she said by way of good-bye.

“Trampoline,” I replied.

She gave me a pat. I gave the curvy part of her silky pantaloons a slap that produced a satisfying pop. She stifled a yelp, but couldn’t uncouple an adorable little two-step.

She turned in the vestibule to fix me with a practiced glare. “You wish!”

“I wish you had an older sister.”

She yanked open the door and plunged down the steps. I heard the sound of solid impact and a grunt, a distinctly male grunt. She squealed once, followed by the crisp smack of one hand clapping against something resilient. Barney and I listened as her footsteps retreated toward the main house and a man’s laughter accompanied a heavier tread on the steps.

An unfamiliar presence entered Barney’s tin tipi, closing the door behind him.

“Been a while since a sweet handful like that just threw itself into my arms,” he said, squeezing ripe, but invisible fruit with both hands.

He shucked his jacket off onto a spare hook on the near wall and hung his mask with it. “That’s a tender slice, Barn. Have you got an exemption on it?”

I noticed his left cheek was radiant.

About my height, probably about my age, standard build and, except for his jacket and shoes, his clothes appeared straight off the bargain rack at the Wally-verse. His hair, a sunny blond, was spiked straight up and his moustache was thick, black, and dreadful. He looked like an actor in one of those old Bollywood action movies—not the lantern-jawed lead, to be sure; more like one of the villain’s expendable henchmen.

“You get that salacious thought out of your head right now,” Barney said.

The newcomer looked me up and down once. “Who are you?”

“I’m Mr. Gaston’s public relations representative and scheduling secretary,” I said. We had good eye contact. “Do you have an appointment?”

He blinked.

“We don’t do walk-ins until Thursday,” I explained.

Barney stood up, wiping away a dark green moustache.

“Hey, Dash,” he said. “This is Chase. He works in R&D up on the hill. He’s following up on one of my projects.”

The three of us real cozy there in the galley corridor, Barney completed the ritual. “Chase, Dash here is one of my oldest friends since middle school, before the…” He licked his lips. “I’m surprised you haven’t met yet; he’s almost a roommate.”

“Well shit, Barn,” Chase said. “Any friend of yours is a friend of mine.”

I stuck out my fist. Knuckles down. Like you do.

He bumped the back of my hand with his own, like you do. Not aggressively, but hard enough to let me know he was someone not to be taken lightly. Or maybe he has poor depth perception. I’m not judging.

“Dash’s got an appointment up at hilltop in a couple hours,” Barney said. “He’s being assigned today.”

“Really?” Chase said, all chummy and oily and interested. “I could probably help you get a comfy placement inside Prime if you want. I’ve got some influence with …”

“I’m going to crew on the Sagan,” I said.

Chase’s expression conveyed dismay. “With the Nancys? Oh, no. No no no. You don’t want to get hooked up with them. They’re not right. It’ll make you bugshit just being around them.”

“Shut up,” Barney said.

“You know. Like him,” Chase said hooking a thumb.

“Thanks all the same,” I said. “You want some coffee?”

He shrugged. “Sure.”

“No! No coffee! That’s the last thing you need now.” Barney pointed to the seat he’d just vacated. “Go ahead and sit down there. I’ll just be a minute.”

Chase didn’t jump to comply, instead gave me a skeptical look that tracked back to Barney, tipped his head my way.

“He knows.” Barney said.

Chase’s head swiveled back to me. “You do? You tried it?”

“Tried what?”


“Oh, hell no! My body’s a temple.”

The hotbox chirped and I took my egg, cheese, and sausage pocket out on its little paperboard tray, opened it up enough to spooge sour cream and a couple packets of pico inside, pinched it shut.

“S’cuse me,” I said, edging back into my seat. “The temple requires periodic fortification.”

“Your temple’s had an implant recently.”

“Why don’t you two take a few minutes,” Barney said, fingers in his crazy hair. Tiny static discharges twinkled. “Get to know each other. I’ll be right back.”

He and Chase exchanged positions in the rectangular cylinder of the galley and its nook. His slipper-shod shamble carried him through the galley and the entry, out the door, and into the carport’s little storeroom. He didn’t some right back.

I took a bite of my samitch. I still remember that initial burst of flavor even now. Funny that’s stayed with me after everything that’s happened.

I recall, too, how my scalp was sore where the implant was still settling into it. I’m told I shouldn’t be able to feel micro-filaments delving into my favorite brain, either. That morning, I was sure that I could.

I spread my foldie out in front of me and began sifting through my preferences. An image and its header caught my eye—one of my favorites. I promoted it and let it run, woke my earbuds.

Chase made up his mind. Barney took a few steps out of the runway and Chase slid into the empty seat across from me.

“Barney said we should get to know each other,” Chase said. “I feel like I already know a lot about you, Dash. I observe people. Student of human nature, you might say. Part of what I do.”

That’s disturbing, I thought, while I chewed off another bite and gave my reply around it. “Mmmm… mmhm.”

“Unless I miss my guess, you’re an outie. Or at least you were. No implants. No neural tech,” he passed a hand over the top of his own head, “until now, that is. If you’re hired, you’re wired. Right? No Community profile, either. Right? In fact, I’ll bet the only personal tech you sport besides your new haircut is that foldie and… what are those? Earbuds. Am I right?”

I swallowed, looked up. “Oh, sweet Jeebus! Yes! Wow! That’s fantastic! Are you a psychic or what?”

“Ha ha. No, really, you see I…” and I just let him run on for a while about his favorite thing. I turned my attention back to the ‘cast and my buds up a notch, looking up for effect, several times while chewing.

Chase finally realized he was talking to himself and when he tuned up again, his tone was a bit less genial.

“What are you looking at?”

“Sieb Forward,” I said and dabbed a finger to pause the playback. “I try to follow him.”

“No shit? I follow him too! I’ve even seen him on assignment a couple times.”

Oh, great. Now we’re simpatico. Only half of the connected planet follows Stanford Seib’s unique and wildly creative brand of roving reporting. A real fluke would be running into someone who doesn’t follow him.

“What a coincidence,” I said. I think I sounded sincere.

“Yeah!” Oh, he’s a fan alright. “Anything goes trapezoidal anywhere in the world, he’s right there in the middle of it. The guy’s a-mazing.” He points to my foldie. “Where is he now?”

“South America. A contingent of naked, indigenous malcontents are attempting to defend their patch of rain forest and their tree-top community against a squad of monkeys with automatic weapons. No, I mean real monkeys. With guns.”

“Are there earthmovers in the background, too?” Chase said. “That would figure.”

“Can’t tell. Sieb was just about to interview a speaker for the tree-people. They’re both up in some really big ones. Lots of birds and clouds and bugs. Can’t see the ground. Looks like he’s completely at home there.”

“He’s a performer.”

“I heard he’s a stump.” I said.

“Sieb? Oh, yeah. He’s all in. Has been since he began. Warehoused, wired, a tube in every orifice and some tubes where no orifice had ever been before. He is the ultimate cloud tenant. Sort of the antithesis of someone like you.” He gave me that little, ‘you know I’m just kiddin’ around, right?’ smile.

“You could say that.” I don’t care if he’s kidding or not. He’s seen Sieb, though. That’s worthy. “I’d assumed his physical presence on-site is a shiny mechanical. You’ve seen his production. How does he show up?”

“It’s pretty smooth, but it’s not shiny.”

“Hmm?” I said around almost my last tasty mouthful.

“All the mechanicals he used when I saw him weren’t shiny. Most were a little beat up, but expertly maintained. Plus a two-man on-site crew, his media-bot, and a hefty ACMe-powered lifter to provide transport, supplemental imaging, and manage the uplink.”

Chase likes talking. He keeps doing it.

“It’s an impressive package, and his producers have several of these cells staged around the world for rapid deployment. Between the startup and upkeep on a stable like that, and the cost of moving them around, it’s hard to believe his subscription is so inexpensive.”

I think I’ve already mentioned his subscription has global appeal, so no; I didn’t think it was hard to believe at all. Not difficult, either, to imagine the cost of advertising on Seib Forward to be astronomic and, no doubt, companies world-wide were falling over themselves in a daily scrum for the privilege to pay for it.

I heard Barney clumping up the steps. He left the door open with the screen in place and shuffled back to the table, slid in beside me.

A small box in his fingers, smooth, smoked plastic with rounded corners, found the tabletop with exaggerated care. With one finger, he eased it across the surface to his guest.

Chase studied Barney’s eyes for several seconds. Barney planted his elbows on the table, cradled his chin in both hands, and showed him a sleepy half-smile. Faced with the patience of Buddha, Chase turned his contemplation to the little container.

He popped it open and plucked from it a single, translucent capsule, rolling it in his fingers. Amber-colored. He sniffed it and seemed dubious of its greasy coating.

“This is it?”

“Well… yeah,” Barney said. “What did you want, one with a lightning bolt embossed on the side?”

“You could do that?”

The last gooey bite of my samitch was in my hand, and Chase saw me take it all in a sensuous slow-mo.

“What you’ll want to do is…” Barney said and Chase popped the pill into his mouth.

“SHIT!” Barney’s hands flew out. “I mean, WAIT! Hold on! Don’t swallow that!”

I probably shouldn’t have burst out laughing like I did, but I couldn’t help it—too late to reel it back in. The expression of naked revulsion on Chase’s face was so perfect, even better than watching Brenda storm out in a huff. Barney was struggling to hold back his own amusement and failing.

Chase hacked out the pellet into his hand and sat staring at it, then glared at each of us, his mouth working without opening. He snatched a wad of paper napkins and horked up a wad of his own into some of them, wiping his tongue on the rest.

“Jesus Homunculus Christ! That tastes like…” I could see him searching for words sufficiently descriptive to convey his disgust.

“It’s a suppository,” Barney said, his grin far too wide to imply remorse.

“Are you out of your fucking mind?!”

“No. It is, in fact, the most efficient delivery method. Besides, I know how repulsive that lubricant tastes. Yeah, I really do. It tastes like asparagus piss smells, doesn’t it? Anyway,” and here he let go a merry little chortle again. “I sure wish you could’ve seen your face.”

“You are one sick fuck, Barney. You know that? You know what else? I don’t even want to know how you know what that…” he spits into one of the napkins he’s still holding, “…tastes like.”

Chase spread his hands in an unconvincing gesture of resignation. The napkin wads fall away. “Was it everything you hoped for?”

I spun my foldie on the table and passed it over in front of Chase. On it was a single, full-spread image of his face screwed up in disgust, his lips puckered against the vile pill within. He seemed to hover over his likeness, still, barely breathing, taking it in.

Then he laughed—a real, unselfconscious whooping guffaw.

And then we were all doing it. Barney’s tin can must have rung with it for a few seconds at least.

The merriment subsided, Chase slid my foldie back to me with a cheerful, “I’m going to stick with my original ‘fuck you’, okay?”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” I said.

Barney eased out of the booth, poured a tumbler of some sparkling, citrusy-smelling beverage from the fridge. “Here,” he said and placed it in front of Chase. “It’ll clear your palate.” Then he poured a couple more for himself and me.

Too much grapefruit in the mix for my taste, as I’d had a traumatic grapefruit experience as a child, but I sipped on it anyway. You know, to be polite.

Barney pointed Chase toward the bathroom. Chase got up, favored us both with a frosty scowl, and took his little pill with him. Barney reached out, eased my foldie in front of him where he could fiddle with it, manipulating the interface with practiced fluency.

The wall screen in the living room lit up with a live concert vid by an odious ‘alternative’ band called Riddled With Polyps. The particular tune in the moment, if one were charitable enough to call it a tune, began with a studious violation of all known musical convention. Not necessarily as simple as it sounds. Well, they’re professionals, after all.

A synthesizer furnished a cat-strangling reproduction of the hrnk and skirl of bagpipes, lending a curious counterpoint to the fusion and fury of what I took to be three guitars and a working sawmill. These were under percussive assault by, in my best estimation, a chain-gun, concussion grenades, and a dumpster tumbling down an endless flight of stairs, which produced its own recognizable rhythm, of course, although nowhere close to synchronization with either instruments, or a toneless, genderless vocalist.

Over all of this, its voice delivered a staccato word salad which failed to repeat a single bewildering stanza over the course of a protracted and ruthless molestation of the senses. The production values were professional quality and impressive, but I thought it an infuriating choice for background music.

“Jesus, Barn! If this is what we’re listening to here, what’s playing in Hell?”

“Same thing, probably.”

“So, you’re saying this could be Hell. What’s it called?”

“Butter Enema.”

“I’d rather have one than hear it.”

“No, you wouldn’t. But when our boy accelerates, that music…”

“That’s not ‘music’.”

“… is going to sound completely different to him and, more than anything else in the immediate vicinity, it’ll snap his mind like a rubber band. Watch and learn, Grasshopper.”

“You’re the devil.”

Barney passed my foldie back.

The bathroom door lurched open and Chase returned to the table. His gait sort of crabbed sideways a couple times, as though he was attempting to adjust an errant bunching of his boxers without the use of his hands. He squirmed noticeably again as he sat down.

“Did you wash your hands?” Barney asked.

“No. I wiped them on your toothbrush.”

The most obnoxious music on Earth assailed the air around us without threat of relent, and together we watched Chase and he watched us watching him.

A minute and change passed almost without event.

The cacophony from Barney’s sound system was borderline intolerable, an auditory brutality with a beat, more or less. But Chase was tapping fingers on the tabletop before an expression of bewilderment eclipsed his features and his entire body began to vibrate.

He let out a sound, high and thin and tight, and I watched as his expression changed from one of confusion and alarm to panic, then comprehension and, at last, wonderment. All of that in the space of maybe ten seconds. Then he was still, looking right at us. I couldn’t even guess what he was seeing. His eyes were a blur.

His body coiled in the booth seat. I barely saw it happen and then he was staring at the wall screen in the living room. He was riddled by the Polyps, I remember thinking, because I still thought I was funny then. I had a momentary impression of him turning back to look at us, but I blinked and he was gone.

What I mean is, one second, I saw him in profile, head cocked as though listening to the Polyps’s torturous ear-rape, but hearing instead something I could not. Then he sort of smeared across my vision leaving empty air where his face had been when I blinked. Ditto the rest of him.

The screen door had banged open, already rebounding closed as I turned too late to catch a glimpse.

Barney had told me what the concoction he called ‘Express’ was supposed to do, but I didn’t really believe it until that moment. I started to say something to Barney and noticed his eyes were blurred too.

“I am going to have to go after him before he hurts himself,” he said. His words were enunciated with precision, as if sending me a message from a great distance and, in a sense, I guess he was.

“Or someone else,” I said to Barney’s after-image as the screen door closed again.

“You boys keep moving that fast,” I shouted into the vacancy, “you’ll set your pants on fire!” and I wondered what it might feel like to slip between seconds.

Riddled With Polyps was still flailing away in the background with no perceivable expectation of finding either recognizable time or key signatures, comprehensible lyrics, nor conclusion. I killed the mind-numbing playback and crystalline silence descended.

I finished my samitch in blissful peace while it was still warm, grimaced down the last of the grapefruity drink, and put Sieb Forward on the main wall view, something to do until Chase’s trial dose ran out. I didn’t know if it would pour him out back here or not, but Barney was certain to return. He was my ride to my new job.

Three or four minutes later, the pair regained the threshold, Barney pressing Chase up the steps and through the doorway. Chase managed a tentative shuffle under his own power back to his seat and slumped down into it. His eyes, though still wild, seemed to gaze through me toward some distant horizon. He appeared dazed, possibly in shock.

Barney began transferring packets of food into the hotbox, poked the control surface a few times, and it started to hum. He placed a reassuring hand on Chase’s shoulder and a tall glass of water within easy reach.

“Four hundred milliliters of di-hydrogen monoxide. I know I don’t have to tell you about the importance of self-hydration,” he said. “No, don’t just sit there and stare at it, Speedy. Bottoms up.”

He poured another for himself, downing it in a single go, a practical demonstration.

Chase’s hand, in uncertain, almost mechanical increments, approached and closed around the tumbler. He tried to lift it from the table, seemed surprised by the weight of it. A silent battle of wills ensued between himself and the inanimate object, with the latter emerging as the early winner. He managed to conquer inertia by way of some Herculean effort, and only a little water dribbled onto the front of his shirt as he sluiced it down.

“That’s a good boy!” Barney said, giving him a brotherly pat on the shoulder.  “See? Doesn’t that hit the spot?”

Chase nodded.

“Here, give me that. I’ll fill ‘er up again for you.”

Chase mumbled something.

“C’mon, use your words,” Barney said, plucking the empty tumbler from Chase’s feeble grip.

“Dough nee denny more.”

“Yeah, you do.”

Barney slipped the brimming glass back into Chase’s right hand and doled an assortment of colorful capsules and tablets into his left.

“…’s this?”

“Supplements. It’ll help put you right again.”

“Phhh. Aye doan do thhh-em. All be ahh-rite.”

Barney released an almost-patient sigh and leaned down close to Chase’s ear.

“Do you like cramps? Listen to what I’m telling you, dumbshit. I didn’t give you the eye-opener dee-luxe you asked for. I gave you a little girly-man sample. Still, you just managed to burn off almost a day’s-worth of your energy in about five minutes. Did you like that?”

Chase just stared up at him, fish-mouthed, nodding.

“Then understand what I’m saying to you now very clearly. Snap your sorry ass out of whatever this stubborn, unproductive funk is that you’re wallowing in right now. Unless you want your first ride on the Express to be your last goddam ride on the Express, stop being a testicle and DO WHAT I TELL YOU!”

Looking back, as I am, I think at that particular moment in time, Chase would have done some pretty egregious shit, best left unexplored further, to obtain once again that velocity of consciousness. Unachievable without Barney’s magical bolus.

I could see it in his eyes. They seemed to burn with a hungry, almost-cunning light. Sure, they were badly bloodshot, but that wasn’t it.

“Chase,” Barney said, “Dash and I are going to make like babies now and head out.”


“We’re going up the hill. People to do, things to see. Gotta run.”

“Wait. What am I …? What about the …?”

“Okay, listen to me.” Barney said. “Do what I tell you to do, and we’ll talk later. Don’t do what I tell you to do, I will know about it and all you’ll get is a shiny memory. No discussion, no refund, no recourse, no bullshit.”

He gave Chase’s shoulder another friendly pat. “As soon as this food’s hot, eat it. Eat it all. There’s more in the fridge when you need it, and you will. And plenty of water, too. Nothing else. Don’t even argue with me about this, man. I meant what I said. Just do it. Eat up, drink up, go lay down in the back, and sleep as long as you need to. The lock will throw itself when you leave.”

Chase waved a hand, acquiescence and dismissal in a single gesture.

Barney slapped me on the back. “Let’s roll, Kato. You’re driving.”



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