I’ve experienced the clip several times. A lot of people have – after the national news networks picked up the story the clip went viral, was downloaded over 35 million times. It still gives me a frission, some complex sensation of mixed-up fear, wonder, and a weird sensation of misplaced personhood over and above the usual dislocation of experiencing a sensie.
My mouth is a little dry, my fingertips tingle, as I plug the sensie player into my neural jack, then slot the small, dark blue data crystal.
There’s a burst of white noise in my ears, an unfolding fractal DreamCorps logo across my eyesight, a tingling across every nerve-ending and then…
I’m half-sitting, propped up in a large bed by the pillows heaped behind me. I can feel the silk of my nightwear soft and smooth against my skin, against my breasts. I can feel the sticky constriction of the cufftape binding my wrists together, my ankles, closing my mouth. The slight smell of some chemical, harsh and astringent, overlain with my own expensive perfume and the smell of my own terror. My hair, damp with fear sweat, is plastered against my back and neck. I can feel my pulse pounding in my head, the churning hollow terror in my chest and perfectly-flat stomach, the trembling in my slim toned arms and legs.
(Damn, that’s an exceptionally fine combination of sensorium and equipment, some part of me thinks distantly. The sensory acuity, especially the emotional conveyance, isn’t as crystal-clear as Emmy’s, but there’s a good reason for that.)
In the dim room – a luxurious, feminine bedroom but with a few signs of the owner’s occupation: a couple of holo-vid awards on a dresser, a poster for the Edgerunners reality show framed on the wall – most of the light comes from the city’s neon glow filtering through lace curtains over an enormous picture window. I’m up high – at least 20 floors up at an educated guess. My eyes scan the room, find a dark-clad slim figure sitting relaxed in a replica Queen Anne chair on the other side of the spacious bedroom. As soon as I see him he reaches to switch on a Tiffany glass lamp, illuminating his end of the room in a warm yellow/green/blue light.
He’s short, and all dressed in a form-fitting black bodysuit with equipment hanging from it. Two holsetrs, placed for cross-draw on his chest, hold identical pistols with long silencers in easy-grab velcro fasteners. His face is pale, with dark hair and dark eyes. His mouth is thin and twisted in a self-satisfied smile, highlighted in black lipstick. He’s a hard-edged black-and-white imposition on the feminine softness of the room. He shouldn’t be there, and my fear lifts a notch in realization of who he must be.
Confirming my suspicions, the figure reaches to my bedroom terminal, slots a chip, and the projector starts throwing a kaleidoscope mosaic of images and video into the air. I recognize myself, slim and feminine in a no-nonsense and empowered way, at work and at play. Tossing my black hair and laughing with friends in a bar; striding over a dusty landscape wearing body armor, a gun in my hand and a holo-vid bot hovering at my shoulder; walking down a street. Everyday images from my life as a DreamCorps producer/director and a minor glitterati celebrity.
He speaks, a low and chuckling voice that holds an undercurrent of familiarity, of control and power, that hits my fear at a basic level, jangling every nerve.
“This is you, Eris Stansfield, in all your glory. You are my most challenging work of Art, you know. So rich and protected, and now made so vulnerable and exposed.” He pauses, then his face goes serious. “My Art will transform you. You will be more famous, more celebrated, richer, than you ever thought was possible. You will transmit my Art to the world, and like all good art it will be the more valuable for being rare. Good night, sweet Eris, and go graciously into the world.”
He blows me a kiss, this Lipstick Stalker, then pulls a small white business card from a pouch and holds it up. My augmented vision zooms in to read: “The End”. In a panic for my life, I zoom out again in time to see him draw one of his pistols – a customized and silenced Armatech Prowler Hi-Power. My breath stops in my throat, my heart almost explodes in terror. He’s going to kill me!
Then he puts the silenced muzzle to his own temple, and with a soft ‘phut’ blows red and gray all over my dresser and wall.
The fractal logo, with a burst of sound that is the DreamCorps signature tune flies across my sensorium again, and then I am back watching my own very male hand shakily eject the data crystal from its player.
So, that’s how I died – and like the coward of the proverb I am doomed to experience it a thousand times.
Of course, I tell myself it’s a professional curiosity. The editing expertise is flawless. Eris assures me that even a police crime lab would have great difficulty in telling just how much of the fear ‘she’ experiences in the clip is computer-generated special effects. Not that they’d ever have cause to check – not when DreamCorps stands behind its product as genuine.
It took a month and a half to track down the copycat who had been killing in the name of Wormwod, the Lipstick Stalker, to indoctrinate him into playing his part perfectly using a cocktail of drugs DreamCorps labs cooked up, and to set the crime-scene up in a believable way. Both Stansfield and I benefited greatly from the subterfuge. I got the chance to create a new me, with a new face and a chip in my head to redirect my urges for Art into safer, if just as kinky, avenues. She got exactly what the fake-me had promised – fame, and even greater fortune, including a gig as host of her own new true-crime show in primetime, no longer having to remain behind the cameras.
But it’s not curiosity that makes me go back to the clip again and again – it’s perhaps a fascination with death, and a satisfaction at viewing my Art through an other’s eyes for the very first time. Perhaps, it’s an echo of that old Art that still bubbles somewhere in my subconscious, held in place by silicon and neuro-circuit bonds, but waiting to be free again.