Synth is a drug able to induce hallucinations indistinguishable from reality. But it’s brand new, highly addictive, and more than likely dangerous. Even the dealers peddling the pills don’t know what long term effects the drug will have on its users. For Markus Olsen, Synth offers an easy escape to his crumbling life. Markus, an ex-hacker, has been caught red-handed, and while his friends were sent to jail for thirty years, Markus decided to cooperate, agreeing to lend his services and particular criminal expertise to Viborg City’s secret service, aiding the oppressive state power he’d been fighting to break in exchange for his relative freedom.
But Markus’ past as an anarchist comes back to haunt him, in the form of a credit card with no account but an seemingly unlimited balance as well as the discovery of a mysterious novel in which he is a main character. How much of his reality is being produced by Synth? How disconnected from real life has Markus become? Forced to face his past and the decisions he’s made, Markus must decide to choose between the artificial comfort of his constructed life and the harsh reality of treason and the struggle for freedom.
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The Song of Synth
By Seb Doubinsky
Talos PressCopyright © 2015 Seb Doubinsky
All rights reserved.
The list of proxies unrolled on the computer's 22" screen, bone white on navy blue. Markus Olsen liked his interfaces old-style. A conservative habit, to be noted. The only one. I swear. He sipped his cold coffee absent-mindedly. Disgusting. The golden wiring of Synth began to connect and unfold behind his eyes in fractal possibilities, but he stopped it. There were no particular mental associations or hallucinations he would pleasurably link with the word "disgusting." Maybe some people did. He was sure some people did. Freaks. His eyes focused on the screen and he put the polystyrene cup back on the desk. The last proxy was followed by an IP number, which he checked. It was a valid number. Sucker.
"Gotcha!" he said out loud in the emptiness of his office.
He forwarded the address to the Central Office. In movies, this would have been an exciting moment, with music, close-ups and vivid colors. Action. Sweat. Testosterone. Here, it was the banal conclusion of a banal chase after a banal medium-skilled hacker trying to earn fame by attacking the city's National Bank security systems. The joker was going to have someone knock at his door in about twelve minutes.
The door shook under the heavy kicks. Like in a movie. Karen hid in the bathroom in her underwear and tee. No bra. They had woken up half an hour ago. The watch still ticked beside his pillow. He thought "What the fuck, this is it." He ran from the bedroom to the dining-room and sat in front of his computer. Started re-formatting his hard drive knowing it was useless. The Force could retrieve anything. But it made him feel better. The thought of it. The fact they would have to work a little to earn their corporate bread. Time stood still in the tiny apartment he shared with beautiful Karen and the earth-shaped mole in the small of her back. Eleven months of happiness. And now ... He heard the door splinter.
Bad vibes. Synth was fading, letting gloom set in. Same shit with all drugs, going down. Synth was no better. Was worse. You only knew it faded when it was already too late and couldn't stir the beast.
Thrown on the ground, he was about to be.
Dismounted like a rodeo rider.
Dumped by a disdainful girlfriend.
Fragments of the door flew into the tiny apartment and a mess of blue uniforms trampled into the small space, yelling unintelligible orders.
A scream from Karen. Sheer terror. They found her in the bathroom. One officer was sitting on him now, telling him it was useless to resist.
"As if," he said.
A steel-capped boot broke his nose. Hadn't seen it coming. Heard Karen scream again and he fainted in a darkness smelling of his own blood.
Synth was disappearing like a beautiful cloud chased by a cold wind. He knew the symptoms.
He felt the little cellophane bag and rolled the last two pellets between his fingers.
* * *
Going down in the elevator, he saw his reflection in the corporate mirror. Images came in loops. Vertigo. Fear of heights. Free fall. Crashing. Sweat quicksilvered on his face. It was black. He tried to smile it off and proceeded to settle his necktie, his hands moist with sticky black goo.
* * *
The subway was packed and Markus found himself crushed against the window opposite the sliding door. Ten years already. Karen screaming in the bathroom. The Potemkin Crew. The guys, the compadres, the friends. A strange feeling of old-fashioned nostalgia swept through his body. Sehnsucht. He recognized the first symptoms of Synth withdrawal. The melancholy. The regrets. The illusions of the past. Sentimentality. Self-pity. A longing for nineteenth century poetry.
The neons had taken on a bluish hue. His eyes filled with tears. He had to fight it, although he knew he had already lost. It was hard to be a willing victim, sometimes.
Markus got out at the next stop. He still had twelve to go until home, but he couldn't wait. He pushed backs and crushed feet as he made for the door. Gasped for air on the platform. The glimmering lights of a soda vending machine attracted his eyes. The prices were outrageous but he had no choice. Drop the coins in, grab the ice-cold can. A slow motion dream. Cheap effects but real. I need to find a quiet place. He stumbled up the stairs. The rumble of the city welcomed him. The scent of CO2 was blessed. His eyes looked around. A quiet place. He saw a bench, next to a phone booth. His feet moved in that direction. The ghost of Synth was already sitting on the bench, waving to him. Yes, you control me now, you bastard. But wait and see.
Markus sat down and his fingers twisted the soda can's screw-top. Cars zoomed by, pedestrians walked and waited, stoplights switched. A symphony. He smiled. The colors were blinding. Synth would tone everything down. It always did.
He rolled the two last pills between his fingers in the pocket of his pants, enjoying the feeling through the cellophane bag. In a few minutes, he would break free from Synth and control it back. Power trip. Total.
Markus dropped the pellets in his open mouth, washing them away with a gulp of the expensive soda. Cars zoomed by, pedestrians walked and waited, stoplights switched. A quiet place. Ten to zero, backwards. Place quiet a. Like it should be. He began to relax. His eyes caught a poster for the upcoming election on a billboard on the opposite side of the avenue. A picture of Olsen, the prime minister and leader of the National-Liberal Party. They shared the same last name. A coincidence? Words from a song floated back. I had to laugh. He decided to be on a beach, with white sand, palm trees and a beautiful sky. And he was. The grumbling of the cars was replaced by the gentle splashing of the waves. Karen would join him soon. He shielded his eyes from the burning sun and looked around. There she was, beautiful in her black bikini. No, monokini. Whatever he chose. The glory of Synth. Karen waved at him and he waved back. A quiet place. Her breasts were magnificent.
* * *
When Markus finally got up from the bench, he was feeling much better. He brushed sand from his pants, took a deep breath and looked around. He had set Synth on minimal and only the colors seemed more intense, more real in a Technicolor® kind of way. Always a sucker for classics. Fucking nerd. Sørensen's image flashed behind his eyes. You are on a mission from God and his pipe. But he was on another mission now. He had to locate Dr. Sojo before Synth escaped again and held him captive. The freedom of the Western World depended on Dr. Sojo now. He hailed a passing cab, turning it into a 1940 Chevrolet. Synth had class.
* * *
The cab driver let him off at the corner of Grundtvig and Laugesen, right in the middle of Sorgbjerg. It was the rundown kingdom of the NoCredits, full of social rejects, immigrants and whoever had been so unlucky as to run out of means to sustain their own living. Of course, Viborg City wasn't heartless — it cared for its needy and proclaimed it on every billboard and in every speech — so it gave those poor souls a minimum wage that kept their noses above the waterline — just. But of course all the ungrateful bastards and bitches dreamt of big cars and flat screens, so crime helped them achieve the comfort their monthly checks couldn't provide. And Synth was a great way to make a good tax-invisible stash.
That's why, like so many fellow Cash or Credit bourgeois citizens, Sorgbjerg had become familiar to him.
* * *
When he finally located Dr. Sojo's massive silhouette sitting behind a polystyrened coffee at the Sorgbjerg Central Station cafeteria, he felt a shiver of relief. It had taken him almost three hours. One of the longest chases in Dr. Sojo's chase history. People thought, people believed, people didn't know. "At the Green café." "Behind Nielsen's appliance store." "At his apartment." Until someone thought they had seen him here. Well, fortunately, that someone was right. And here he was, the Wild Goose himself, warming up his big hands around a black coffee, really looking like a NoCred in his worn-out khaki parka.
Dr. Sojo lifted his eyes through the imitation tortoiseshell glasses and a smile parted his heavy beard.
"My favorite customer," he said, pointing to an empty chair.
Markus sat down, feeling the Synth stretch in him like a satisfied cat. No one knew where Dr. Sojo came from. Rumor was that he was an old military researcher gone bad. Others that he was fired from a private clinic for malpractice or addiction. Some said he wasn't a doctor at all, just a a quack. But whoever he was or wasn't, every Synth junkie knew his name.
"Wassup, doc?" Markus said, extending his hand.
Dr. Sojo's fingers were warm from the coffee cup. It wasn't even winter yet, but he dressed like an Eskimo. Actually, Dr. Sojo was always cold.
"Business, as usual."
The Doctor sipped his coffee and looked around, checking out the crowd.
"Your place or mine?"
Markus smiled at the usual joke.
"Yours, of course."
Dr. Sojo stood up, towering over the table like a sequoia tree, slapped his large thighs and snorted.
"Let's go," he said.
* * *
Dr. Sojo's apartment was a crummy two-room NoCred place, crowded with bookshelves, weird art on the walls and an impressive vinyl punk rock collection. The kitchen was a mess, with a filled-up garbage can, a clogged sink in which pale gray water reflected the weak light-bulb, dirty paper plates and stained polystyrene cups heaped on the table. A smell of incense filled the visitor's nose as soon as he stepped in, acrid but not completely unpleasant. A large couch covered with a red and pink Indian rug occupied much of the sitting-room, with a small copper coffee-table and two leather-covered Arab stools. How the bedroom was arranged — hidden behind an Islamic Jihad flag used as a curtain — was a mystery to Markus.
"Take a seat," Dr. Sojo said, turning on his cranky old stereo and lowering the dusty pick-up onto a vinyl album.
Music crashed into the room and the Doctor turned it down.
"Had a party with a lady friend of mine yesterday," he explained. "Forgot to turn the volume back down afterwards."
Markus sat down on one of the comfortable Arab stools that sighed under his weight. With Synth he could turn this dump into an Oriental palace, if he wished, but the color enhancement worked just fine for now.
Dr. Sojo sat on the sofa without removing his parka.
"I read in the paper the other day that they found a spot in space where there isn't a single star," he said, unzipping the top of his coat.
"Gloomy," Markus said.
"Think so? I thought it was kind of cool. No stars, man. Think of that."
"Complete darkness. Gloomy."
"That's one way to look at it."
"What's your way?"
Dr. Sojo searched in his deep pocket and found a crumpled cigarette pack . Marcus accepted one and they sat silent for a few moments, enjoying cancer chemicals, abnormal children and a painful death.
"My way is that we don't know shit about nothing."
"What can I get you?" Dr. Sojo finally asked.
The ritual question. Two years they'd known each other. Synth turned Dr. Sojo into a younger version. Ritual question. Wonderful verbal key.
"Didn't you come two weeks ago?"
"Aren't you pushing the envelope, son?"
"What do you care? I've got the money. I'm still Cred."
Dr. Sojo frowned behind his thick glasses, and squeezed the tip of his nose between his thumb and index finger.
"I like our conversations. I would miss them if you were locked up at Kronborg."
Kronborg was the psychiatric hospital. Markus shrugged.
"It's my fucking brain. I can do what I want with it. Been under a lot of stress recently. Need the recreation."
Dr. Sojo killed the cigarette in the ashtray. The music was harmonic chaos in the background. Synth began to unfold the CBGB 1979. Markus stopped it, wanting to focus.
"Yes, but you're going where no brain has gone before."
"You're a fucking weird drug dealer, you know that?"
Dr. Sojo smiled and settled back on the couch.
"Yes, I know that. I'm just warning you, that's all. It's still a relatively new drug. All possible experiences have not been recorded."
"Like the big black hole in the sky."
"Like the big black hole in the sky."
Markus crushed his own cigarette.
"It's okay, man. I'm an astronaut. You got the stuff?"
* * *
The subway doors closed and he sat in the near empty car. Rush hour had subsided. A quiet place. His fingers played with the cellophane package warming inside his pocket. 28 beads, normally a month. Now two weeks. Less if he could. If he dared. If he had the money. Synth sent him a row of random numbers. Yes, he could play the lottery. But would he still use Synth if he was Cash? The thought lingered, threatening. 28 beads, the rosary of addiction.
Excerpted from The Song of Synth by Seb Doubinsky. Copyright © 2015 Seb Doubinsky. Excerpted by permission of Talos Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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