The Nature of Addiction

This story is my entry in the LinkedIn SF writer’s group’s October short story contest. It suffers somewhat from an uneven tone, as a result of editing it down to fit into 4,000 characters, and I may eventually revisit it. For now, it stands. The story is a return to the world of Ephis, from my story Apsis in Ephis with Samir. Something in the story touched a few nerves, and I’ve written a few paragraphs of explanation at the bottom.

In Ephis, all of us are foreigners, and many of us actors. We  wear our self-created parts like the masks of Carnival. None more so than I.

There is a network of mirrors that reflects light over from the Other Side, and then shines it down in fiery beams, to light our Ephesian way. One mirror, mounted high overhead on the dome, neatly pinpoints the unconscious bodies of two goons. Their companion lies  somewhere in the gloom of the next flight of stairs down.

One final remaining thug still bars my way. He must be recklessly brave, stupid or exceedingly loyal. Or perhaps he has excellent health coverage from his employer. Whoever that may be.

I step towards him, feinting a blow at his groin with my knee, and he flinches. Decent reflexes. They’re not going to help him in this particular case though. I follow up instead with a vicious elbow to his head, and he joins his companions.

I don’t break my stride.

Shane’s has a decent view out the edge of one of the domes, and the owners keep the lights low. There’s a bit of light on the horizon. We may be tidally-locked, but there’s still some precession, and we occasionally get a nice show.

The person I am meeting is waiting for me at a table on the patio. He looks pretty normal, everything considered. I pull out one of the chairs, spin it around and sit down backwards on it, my forearms resting lightly on its back.

“Did those idiots belong to you?” I ask.
He smiles, says nothing for a second. “Not mine. You do have a reputation though. Perhaps somebody wanted to test you?”
I frown.
“Did you bring it?” he asks me.
I’d already palmed the small globe from my pocket. I flip it to him across the table. He looks around casually. Its still too early for serious traffic. He touches the globe gently to his temples, squeezes it. For a moment his eyes glaze over and lose focus.
“Geez,” I say, “Using the merchandise. That’s a nice downward spiral. Bad for business. Why the heck would an ‘Upsie’ like yourself want to do that?”
“You know that’s a pejorative,” he states, intent once more. “We’re Upgrades. Upgraded Persons.”
I shrug. Whatever.
“You have any idea what it is like to be on all of the time? To be super freaking human? This is the only way I can ever relax.”
“By turning off?” I ask.
“Yeah. Exactly that.”

I can tell I’ve lost him, that his patience has ended. Back to business. “I have the rest of it waiting where we arranged.”.

He touches a finger to his forehead, almost a salute. I feel his transaction moving into the escrow account.

Which is precisely when the backup team charges out of wherever they were hiding, slamming both of us onto the floor, and hauling us off in handcuffs.

No point blowing my cover, after all.

I face the Chief across an expansive wooden desk that might even be an original.
“So what happens now?” I ask him.
“Cass,” he says with just a hint of a sigh.
I raise my shades up onto the top of my head, and glare at him.
“We’ll slap him on the wrist and deport him,” he says.
“What is even the point of having laws against this stuff if we don’t enforce them?”
“Hard currency,” he says flatly.
“So he gets to feel naughty? We arrest him and send him home happy from his nice little ‘bad tourist’ vacation, and he then tells all of his friends about the wonderful, terrible time that he had? I’m just the  entertainment?”
“And we keep our regressive laws on the books so that they keep doing it. Its a profitable niche.”
“Freaking ‘Upsies’.”
“Cass, you can’t keep calling them that. Upgraded Persons.”
I ignore the reproof. “I just don’t get them.”
“Me neither. Me neither. Was that thing real, by the way? You didn’t check anything out of the depot.”
“No. It was a tiny EMP that I threw together. Knocked out his wiring for a few seconds. That’s the really odd part about the whole thing. All those upgrades, and he looks for something illicit just to feel normal.”

The world of Ephis

You would be unlikely to encounter an unmodified human being in the fictional world of Ephis. If you did, they would most likely be the outcome of a post-post-human statement of some kind, and in fact probably an instance of trickery or fraud.

Upsies are, to put it in early 21st century terms, post-human hipsters. The ironic attitude, rather than the technology is the defining trait. Living in a world with no constraints and little to do, being virtually immortal and practically indestructible – and bored to tears – has lead them to behavior that aggravates other inhabitants of the universe.

Casio (“Cass”) Royce had an unusual upbringing, even for an Ephesian. Her family were members of a bizarre Materialist cult, who worship ancient brand names. She escaped from the tiny, insular rock of her childhood to Ephis. She will likely appear in future stories, as will her younger brother H.D.

Ephis is a constructed society. Its culture, economy and legal system have been deliberately designed to emulate an evolution of Western 21st century society. Given that everybody is effectively superhuman, and that nobody actually needs to do anything in a post-scarcity universe, all of its inhabitants are really acting out roles of their own choosing. Some of them are more serious about their parts than others, and occasionally one encounters a tone-deaf individual who just misses the point entirely.