We're used to movies carried by plot twists, but are we ready for movies that are part of a plot?
The police -- actually the Technological Information Misuse Division, which is very much the same thing -- arrived in mid-afternoon.
Two officers, one male, one female. When I answered the door, their guns were still in their holsters, which was a promising sign. I offered them cinnamon tea, which they refused, and then the woman produced the tape and asked me to identify it as my work. I thought I understood.
"It was a legal contract," I heard myself say, hands automatically moving over the video player keys, watching the screen pale and flicker. "I never expected any of this to happen. I would have withdrawn it, but EmpressaCorp insisted on holding me to the contract -- "
"We do appreciate that," she said, glancing around the room as if expecting to find vital clues among the half-assembled hardware and discarded takeaway cartons. "You are not suspected of committing any offense with regard to this matter. We'd simply like you to confirm that this is a copy of the feelie you recorded on the date already mentioned..."
White noise, screen flicker.
Simple 2-D playback, faded and slightly out of focus. To get the detail, I'd have to plug in, get the full output, feel it, and I couldn't do it. Not that day. Not again.
But they didn't seem to want me to. I should be able to identify it easily from this. Just the visuals. Like a video recording. My life from the outside.
Union Square. A bright day, wind flapping the flags, the whole staff of the development department drawn up in a neat line, shiny shoes and immaculate hairdos. The President makes her way along the line. Shakes my hand. I bob a curtsey. I smile. A few polite words, and she moves to shake Jason's hand --
Not turning, I feel them exchange glances.
This isn't how it happened.
It's a good mock-up, sure. A film set or something. The President, one of these professional lookalikes. But Jason's shirt is the wrong color -- he was wearing the one I bought him, the deep red -- and I never wear high heels, and she's pausing with Jason far too long. He'd hardly even taken her hand when --
I watch him spin under the impact, slow motion. The President ducks, her bodyguards press in close; and yes, I was on the floor beside Jason by this point, but I was holding his head steady until the medics could reach us, trying to minimize the damage to his skull, and no, my God no, I wasn't screaming --
It took me a moment to realize that they'd switched the tape off.
"That isn't the recording I made." I said, feeling along the arm of the chair, guiding myself down into the seat before my legs failed completely. "If this is a film, I'll sue them blind, I swear it. Where did you get this?"
The sleek tanned man touched the eject button and jerked the tape free.
"Who made this recording? Where did you get it?"
The locks on his briefcase clicked open in succession, and then closed.
The woman smiled. "You've been very helpful, Ms. DuMaris. Thank you so much."
I kept up the protests until they were halfway down the stairwell, ignoring the neurotically twitching curtains at frosted glass doors all along the corridor. Then I stormed back inside, slamming the door dramatically, for good measure, and went back to the video player.
The recording chip was embedded inside the supposedly non-removable plastic casing, and I was pretty confident that they hadn't noticed it. And once I'd eased open their encryptions, my new piece of evidence played back just fine.
Watching the bullet, the fall, the blood. Letting the memories flay me raw. Letting the memories push me through tears, through despair, into fury --
The apartment door.
Jason, back from rehab early, bored with smiling nurses and exercise machines, squinting over my shoulder at the screen. "Nice picture, Kay, but what the hell happened to my shirt?"
I tried to laugh, but all that came out was a strangled sob, and he lowered himself gingerly onto the rug beside me, the joints of the exosupports on his legs creaking faintly. His hair was wet. Must've started raining. I hadn't noticed.
"Info Misuse came calling," I said, remembering to hit pause a split second before the shot rang out, leaving Jason's thin nervous smile frozen on screen as he takes the President's hand. I made myself look away. "Wanted me to identify this as my feelie."
"It isn't, though. Is it?"
"No. That's what I told them. They expected me to. Just wanting confirmation. I copied the tape. Because I want these bastards, whoever they... Oh, Jesus."
His hand closed over mine, thin brittle lines of fiber-muscle hard against my skin, but he said nothing; just waited for me to sort the implications out in my head and explain.
"So a feelie relies on the person with the recording implant -- this woman pretending to be me -- believing everything that's happening is real. Just acting out the emotions won't work, because actors always know they're acting, and when the punter plays the tape back, that knowledge that it's false will come through. So this woman must have believed she was me, meeting the real President, and that her lover had just genuinely been shot..."
Jason nodded slowly. "Which probably means..."
"That he genuinely was."
The wind shifted, and rain drummed lightly against the window panes. After a moment, Jason reached across to prise the remote out of my hand, and hit the PLAY stud. Knew I'd stopped the tape there deliberately, not wanting him to see. Had to prove he could take it. Silly bastard.
I watched his face: nostrils flaring slightly, mouth hardening.
When my doppelgänger started screaming, he hit PAUSE again and said thoughtfully, "Did it really make that much mess?"
I should never have accepted the contract.
Thing was, the Corporation thought it would be good publicity. Kay DuMaris, famous hardware designer and high-profile new signing to their development department, making a popular feelie giving all the world's no-hopers the chance to genuinely feel what it was like to meet the President. I was supposed to give her a guided tour round the labs after the line-up. It never happened. She was hurried away in a limo built like a tank, and I was crying in a corridor as they wheeled Jason into surgery.
We'd only been together a month.
And all that time, the eavesdropper in my head, lapping up every burst of pain and hope and despair, recording everything.
They kept it running till Jason came out of the OR and the doctor told me he was going to need extensive exocybernetics to walk again, but he'd be all right. It worked out well: the punters like happy endings.
I understand it was a bestseller for a while. Then a guy they'd wired up to bed streetwalkers in interesting ways got carved to ribbons by a crazy posing as an underage tart, and my more modest agonies slid quietly down the sales charts into oblivion.
Jason woke me in the middle of the night, and dragged me protesting into the dark living room. The gray flicker of the video screen, a discarded blanket and cold coffee cup. He'd been out here quite some time, then. Watching.
"Look." He jabbed one finger at one figure among the frozen panorama of faces. "Recognize him?"
I blinked at the image. "Yeah. It's Uncle. Runs a pirate tape operation in the Piata. Fancies himself an actor."
Jason grinned, a flash of white teeth in the dark. "And does crowd scene work for cheap movies."
"Good. Clever boy. So we know where to start. Now," I brushed my lips across his, teasing, "turn it off and come back to bed."
Poor bastard never really knew what hit him.
Uncle's shop is a two-compartment tent on the edge of the Piata, out among the factory-reject stalls and the cocktailers. Officially, it sells nicotine products: needle, pill, or slow-release tab, pick your poison. The tapes are stashed in the rear compartment. Safe enough. The police never venture into the Piata. Not without a full platoon of infantry and helicopter back-up, anyway.
I went in the front, packing what appeared to be a colored plastic water pistol. Uncle looked up from his stock-check, slow rheumy eyes narrowing, and grinned derision.
"Neat shooter yo' packing, Kay. Where's the party?"
I fired a couple of cyanide darts into the countertop, and let him watch them dissolve into the bare wood, and by then Jason had slashed the back of the tent open and come in behind him, grinding the empty revolver into the base of his spine, and his smile had turned thin and brittle.
"Party's here." I told him. "Unless you got some info for us."
"About that fake feelie you did crowd work for."
He squinted at me in the gray-filtered light. Gears grinding in a junk-fuddled head. Not everyone down here who knows my name knows exactly who I am, which is just as well, and the girl in the fake may not have looked much like me. The punter never sees the viewpoint character from the outside, so what does it matter?
Jason shifted position, sliding the revolver muzzle round to settle against Uncle's kidney, standing just to his right now, stony. "May not remember her, Uncle. But I think you'll remember me."
The guy in the fake had been a pretty good double, which was what had fooled me for a few seconds. Tall, with that beautiful blue-black skin, pure African, and built like a professional fighter, solid muscle. Yeah, Jason is a pretty distinctive looking guy. Particularly now.
Uncle's eyes traveled slowly across his face, shot through with the pale yellow marbling of artificial nerves, down to the fiber-musculature of his bare right arm and hand, the pitted scar tissue of his shoulder, the occasional glitter of metal.
I've seen kids run screaming after seeing Jason from across the street.
"I'm talking," Uncle rasped, "but it ain't no crime to make movies."
"It is when you kill people."
"You guys never heard of special effects?"
I snapped the safety catch off, and watched him jump. "Let's talk about who hired you."
"Don't remember. You'd need to ask my agent."
"Name and address, Uncle. Or you're going to star in a cute little snuff movie. No cameras, no editing, but the most convincing death scene you'll ever play."
Jason winced. He never did like my extended metaphors.
But we got the address.
"Fine." Jason said. Halfway across the Piata now, jostled by tourists and junk-heads, stretching lazily and sauntering in the sunlight like ordinary market-cruisers hunting a bargain, the guns tucked safely in my kit-bag. "Now what? We just march up and demand they turn themselves in? We've got no evidence -- "
"No." I agreed. "And I wouldn't want to blow the place up without hard evidence. So we jump one of the chief executives, give him a chance to explain the whole situation, and then we blow the place up."
"As always." I touched my middle finger and thumb together, Piata slang for seeking information. "First we need someone to crack their security system, find out what schedules their execs keep. And, if we can, who was responsible for this... travesty."
I like to keep my vengeance specific and precise, where possible.
Jason shrugged, feigning interest in the contents of a scrap hardware stall, all rusted contacts and outmoded disk drives. "Pascal?"
"He's the best. But he won't do it. Not for our price range. Garrad, however -- "
Snorting, Jason let a fader panel clatter back to the tabletop, earning a thin growl of displeasure from the ever-watchful stallholder. "Garrad, yeah."
Never quite worked out why Jason dislikes Garrad so much. Doesn't dispute his professional brilliance. And it certainly isn't jealousy. Garrad's shacked up with a Jap boy called Kirohita. They moved here together. Some kind of, ah, legal difficulties in Europe. No danger there.
But Garrad has some nasty facial scars himself -- acid gun, my guess, though he never talks about it -- and I wonder if they make each other uncomfortable; if for each of them, looking at the other is like looking in a mirror, being reminded.
Never claimed to understand men, did I?
So I went over to their apartment on my own, and Garrad, who has a weakness for revenge attacks, grinned that nasty grin and jacked in, and Kiro and I sat on the terrace drinking toso and maliciously exaggerating the latest underworld gossip.
"Bad enemies you're making for yourself," he said, as I was leaving, with the file tucked in a hidden pocket. "Better have your passports ready and your seats booked."
PanChuenCorp. Big, bad bastards. Owned 90 percent of the external entertainment industries: film, music, everything apart from feelies and other VR spinoffs. Rumor had it that they left the other 10 percent independent just for the fun of poaching talent from it.
But they'd never touched feelies.
Alarm bells rang in my head all the way home, but Jason was stripping down the revolver on the kitchen table, quick metal-sheened fingers glittering under the anglepoise lamp glare, and there was no way to back down now, nowhere to go.
"His name's Bursal. Head of distribution. Looks like they finally let him loose on a film of his own. Got his own car -- serious money. Parks in a public multistory across the square from PanChuenCorp. Every day."
Jason nodded. "Tomorrow?"
Should have known it was all wrong when we got into the multistory so easy.
We went armed with security disruptors and lockpicks and you name it, and the idiots had left the rear fire door open. Should have realized straight away, but no, I was so hyped up and scared and busy worrying how Jason was going to deal with this. Calm, sensible Jason.
Bursal came out exactly half an hour after most of the work force, as he always did. Unlocked the driver's door, slid inside, briefcase on the passenger seat, reaching for the safety harness--
The revolver, loaded now, touched the back of his neck, cold as ice.
"Mr. Bursal," I murmured into his ear, watching his pale frightened eyes follow me in the rear view mirror. "My name is Kay DuMaris, and we really do need to talk."
And then Jason was kicking the rear door open, jack-knifing out into the sodium light glimmer, wrenching the front passenger door open and flinging the briefcase out to clatter on the concrete--
"Right, you bastard," he was saying as his synthetically reinforced hand closed around Bursal's throat. "You think what happened to me was so damn entertaining? Wait'll you see what I've got in store for you, murdering little..."
In the rearview mirror I saw Bursal's left eye gradually irising down, like a zoom lens closing, closing, and suddenly I understood who was directing this movie.
"It's a trap, Jason. Let him go."
Dark eyes met mine, just for an instant: then he glanced away again, the switchblade flicking silently open in the car's interior light. Bursal squealed like a kid.
I leant forward and jabbed stiffened fingers into the pressure point I'd found by accident during a fumbled amorous encounter in the shower; just below the right armpit, hollow space between bones, the shock jolting the central processor into virtual immobility.
Reduced to the numb inadequacies of his own damaged nervous system, right arm limp across his lap, Jason managed somehow to turn his head towards me and spit a curse.
"Who are you recording for, Bursal?"
"Empressa. They said they wanted a feelie about making documentary movies. I didn't think you... It wasn't meant to end like this."
"Oh, but it was. It was supposed to end with us thinking your "documentary" was some kind of faked-up snuff feelie and butchering you in a filthy car park. Or your office, or your apartment. The setting doesn't matter. All they're interested in are those clear death-sensations, because death sells movies, and the more the audience feels, the better."
He stank of piss and stale sweat, and I was beginning to feel sick.
"Let's move, Jason." I kicked the rear door open, keeping the revolver pointed in Bursal's general direction. "And you, Bursal, I suggest you contact the police and explain this whole sordid little escapade to them. They may just be able to protect from EmpressaCorp's assassins. Though I wouldn't bet on it."
Jason got out of the car without help -- his legs are pretty good, and his left arm was virtually undamaged -- and kept pace with me until we were out of the multistory and way down into pedestrian territory, the backalleys of the artisan district.
"Empressa's going to fry our asses for this," he said, when the numbness wore off enough for him to speak clearly again.
"S'all right. My ass is too big anyway." I pulled him into the shadow of a mock-medieval tannery and pressed the boarding pass into his hand. "Pier twelve. You'll need this if we get separated. The ship doesn't leave for another thirty minutes. I wanted to leave time to mop the whole thing up, but... Oh. And I'm sorry I hit you."
Numb muscles kicking back in, stiff and pale artificial yellow with the effort, Jason smiled.
"Tough business, making movies."
Ceri Jordan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer, theatre practicioner, and general rogue and vagabond. She lives in Wales and has published work in a number of U.K. and U.S. magazines. Her first novel is The Disaffected, (Tanjen Books, 1998).
InterText stories written by Ceri Jordan: "Handlers" (v5n6), "Making Movies" (v6n3), "Savannah" (v7n5).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 6, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1996 Ceri Jordan.