I was born in the Indianapolis Arcoplex, to wealthy parents. I wasn't carried to term inside my mother, but was cultured and gestated inside a machine, and when I was old enough, they decanted me, inserted a tracker inside my skull, and put a smart toy in my hands. They do the implant when we are newborn, through the fontanel, the soft spot in the skull, where our head was supposed to compress when our mother would squeeze our helpless form out through her pelvis. Biologically, I was four when they popped the cork on my tank. I was chronologically just under a year old. In the old days, when birth was a bloody affair that could end in fatalities, infants were completely helpless, unable to walk, crawl, sensitive to everything, constantly trying to die as their bodies struggled with the bacteria and virii outside of the womb. In the year I spent in the can, my body was run through hundreds of simulated diseases and vaccines, ensuring high or complete immunity to these commonplace illnesses. My mind was linked to a neonatal computer, and in the quasi sleep I was in, the machine dreamed with me. It taught me to walk, how to control my bowels, and the basics of communication, learning how to make words and sounds even if the meaning behind them wasn't there yet.

Eleven months ago I was diagnosed with EDS. Emotional disruption syndrome. The doctors scanned my brain, they ran diagnostics on my chip, and they said the prognosis was good. With 10mg Lybrium and 50mg of Soma, I could live a happy and productive life, and that I would only need emotional evaluations maybe once a year.

As a kid, I had my bright blue MUSE, with it's impact resistant case and kid friendly interface. The device was linked to not one, but three boppets. I always had friends to play with, and when I wasn't playing with them, I could go jump on the bed, plug in my headgear, and go play online. In the good places online, all of my boppets could come and play with me. It was easy to get lost out there, chasing dragons, playing settlers and natives, being heroes in space. Some of that play was education, and its where I learned to read and do basic math, about history and the rest of it.

After the diagnosis, I saw things differently, I couldn't help it. I could see through the illusion, I could see the trap for all its naked glory. There were movies in the past about machines enslaving humanity, and how humans, desperate and plucky, fought the machines valiantly. It was true, but the relationship was backwards. Humanity wasn't conquered by the machines, humanity built the shackles, the prisons, the cages, and built the wardens and the jailers to hold the keys. Humanity put itself willingly into bondage

When I became a teenager, I switched two of my boppets for companion droids. Their personas stayed the same, but their automated plush bodies were replaced with synthetic humanoid. One became my 'best mate' and my auto brother. The other became my girlfriend, and hump mate. The third stayed my boppet companion, my closest confidant and the keeper of all my secrets and fears. I was issued my multikard, applied for my own residence, and moved out into the great big world.

Life in Synchronicity, Indianapolis

The residential zone I was relocated to was called Synchronicity, and was home to 10,000 people. Inside the zone, everything was perfect. Residential units were kept up to spotless spec, and everyone was genuinely polite and well mannered. The urban park was splendid, and the the commercial sector of the zone was the epitome of gentrification.

Synchronicity was sterile. It was cold and dead. It was a model community populated by the children of upper income households, and well off retirees from middle income households. The young people are congregated in one section, while the retirees are clustered in another, and the two groups seldom ever mix. And we newcomers, we were presorted by the machines, pre-screened, and placed with in a cul-de-sac with five to ten other young like minded people. We mixed and mingled, we had a lot in common, and being new to the zone, we made friends with each other easily. We accepted each others quirks, the people who had synthetic pets, those who had synthetic partners like I did, and those who had their own interests and enthusiasms.

It was a quiet hell. We were all jacked into the net, with out MUSEs and earpieces and scouters. We had zingers and one liners on hot feed, and when we got in a good joke or jab, our accessories purred with laughter and applause. We were living in our own sitcom. Our devices were all linked, so everyone was in on the jokes, and the emotional outbursts were uncommon, and often mild. There were parties, and there was lots of sex, and eventually everyone would sleep with everyone. And it would be fine, and for lots of people it was fine. It was fine for me, at least, until the incident.

It was a real surprise when I got a real job, and got to relocate again. It was with one of the big robotics manufacturers in Indianapolis, so I wasn't moving far. I went up 25 decks, and over into the main tower of the arco. I settled into a new bachelor unit, and a week later, I got the same roommate I had in Synchronicity. Almost 3/4ths of my circle from Synchro moved into the same section. There were new faces, but they were the minority. We were young professionals, so we did what young professionals did, we drank, we did drugs, and we fucked like animals. It didn't matter, no one got pregnant, no one caught any diseases, in hindsight, we weren't even having sex, we were just using other people as masturbation aids. That's all that mattered. How many hots girls had you been with, how many hot guys had you been with. Everything was fluid.

I hated most of them, and I am sure, they hated me as well. Somewhere along the line, I developed a serious problem. It was an illegal narcotic, one of the real ones, and it was something from the geofront. I had a chinpira named Gunther Gustav who supplied me with the stuff. I had a seizure, my heart stopped, and technically, I died.

I didn't actually die, but it messed things up inside my brain. My brain can no longer mesh with my accessories. My scouter, headgear, and earpiece don't work for my anymore.

The techs and the doctors say everything is working fine, and that the data feeds are running normally, and that there is no reason that prevents any of my gear from working.

I was outside of the bubble. I was out of the circle. I couldn't hear the laugh tracks, in conversations I didn't have any witty repartee, no quips, just a handful of lines I could remember, and I started using them as catchphrases. The people I had known most of my life started shutting me out. I was excluded from parties, girls who would spread their legs for me no matter what no longer remembered my name. I was a person non grata. The only people who didn't cut me out were coworkers who couldn't, and Gunther Gustav. He was also an outsider, we all knew him, but we only knew his name and frosted blond hair, and that he was quiet, didn't get the jokes and was super uncool. We hated him, but he had the drugs, he had the good stuff, and he was our guide when we would take a wild hare to go slumming in the geofront.

My life was falling apart. I hadn't had a decent night's sleep in weeks, since my SmartBed couldn't link to my brain anymore. My work evaluations were falling into termination range, between having lost my Cog access and increasing sleep deprivation. I told Gunther Gustav about this, and he told me that I needed to max out my credit and put it into transportable goods with intrinsic value. I was terrified when I asked him why, and he told me I was about to get the Cunningham treatment,

There was a kid, Chuck Cunningham, and he fell out, just like I had. He was one of the first, and he tried to get back in. He became a disruption to the harmony of Felicity zone, New Boston. One day, he went back to his apartment to get something he forgot, and he never came back. A month later, he didn't exist. He had never existed, and even his roommate of 6 years didn't remember him. Gunther told me I was about to get that treatment.

I had a moment of clarity, and thought myself clever, and asked him, if no one remembered him, how could there be a Cunningham treatment.

Gunther sighed, and at great length, and over several strong drinks, he explained the concept of FNORD to me. If you are indoctrinated to never see a FNORD, even if one is right in front of you, you can't see it. You can't name it, you can't describe it. He explained that Chuck was a kid from a TV show centuries before who was written out by the execs, and literally went up to his room and never came back, and then was ret-conned from the series. It happened to people, he said, because he was a Chuck Cunningham himself. That's how he knew how to get around inside the city, because he had lived there before. He traded street drugs to jerk offs like me in exchange for shit that we didn't need, stuff we could replace with ease.

He said that the powers that be inside the arcos do this, to keep the peace and the harmony.

I thought he was joking, until I was diagnosed with EDS. It was always inevitable that someone would get the diagnosis, and then a short time later, they would relocate. Somewhere peaceful, or a medical center, where they could be treated. We would wish them the best, and then forget about them.

I was about to be shipped off.

I maxed out my multikard, then threw it away. I bought ridiculous things, and multiples of things I didn't need, and then in the middle of the afternoon, I grabbed all of these things, and I ran away. I was traumatized, my companions, my Mia, and my auto brother JoeAwesome, and my age worn Boppet all stopped at the edge of the arco boundary, refused to go forward, and then powered down when forced across the boundary. Gunther picked up Mia, slung her over his shoulder, and told me to carry whatever I could and leave the rest.

Security swept through the upper level of the geofront, and they passed over us. We were sitting in what he called a bunker box. he said that a century before it had been used for storing hazardous materials, and was shielded. They couldn't scan to find my brain chip, or Mia's cortex signature.

I learned that his name was August. He had told us to call him Gus, since he knew that our wired up brains wouldn't remember anything longer than that. We called him Gunther Gustav because we knew he had a g name, and those were the first two g names we stumbled across trying to remember someone outside of the circle. He tolerated it because he said that to the outsides, wired in arco dwellers are the pinnacle of human stupidity. Blind, deaf, shallow, stupid, and hateful as fuck, and determined to fuck as many people as possible. He knew this because he had once lived in Synchronicity too. He had been in the circle. He hadn't had a near fatal overdose, he hadn't had a near fatal accident, he had gotten up one morning, and because of a technical error, his access code to the network had been revoked. He went from a resident to a trespasser, and was apprehended by security, detained for 24 hours, questioned, and then exiled. He had stumbled through the geofront until he landed on his feet, and found his own way to make it forward.

August, Gunther Gustav, still owns Mia. He had a clocksmith fix her, so she will run without cognet access, and outside of the boundaries. She's a waitress for him now, he has a something between a junkshop and a coffee shop, and a bar down in the geofront. The things we gave him for drugs, he traded to drug dealers and makers in the geofront, and kept some on the side. He's got quite the set up now, a half dozen droids, the shop itself, and he's still a chinpira, a middle man for the arcos.

I work for him now, and he's training me how to make runs. He also said that when I can afford it, he'll sell me Mia back. He also said that when I can afford her, I will probably have grown enough to realize I don't need her back.

I die inside, when I see her. I picked out her face, he breasts, everything, and it's my property, my girl, that that his customers are taking in the back for a go at her perfect vulva.

I just want to go back to my smartbed, with Mia giving me a blowjob every night before going to sleep, and to my cushy job up in the tower, and instead, I'm in hell. Under the tower, eating rat meat and digging through refuse for treasure.

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