Although this masquerades as a short story, it actually crams the known universe down your neural network. Each pixel barrages your retina in photons arrayed to convey a trillion trillion trillion bits of information. Glimpsing the first letter of this story has made you want to invest a month’s credits into our bank account, but hey, at least we’re honest.
After reading this far, you have the knowledge of three races from the Milky Way’s more intelligent arthropods stored in your brain. How many of your friends can boast that? (Shortly, all of them. You will convince them to look at the first letters of this story, and they will soon sink a month’s credits in our accounts.)
All you have to know about your new knowledge is how to access it. At present, this technology is limited to Random Access Memory—that is, it may require green tea on your Great Aunt Betsy’s veranda or a quiet afternoon of clinking dominoes at a local café, but it will all surface sooner or later, whether you want it to or not.
In clinical trials, 98.9 % of those about to be crushed by pillow-rock monsters on the planet Xartan are able to recall the necessary escape data to skedaddle with little more than a mild concussion or internal hemorrhaging. Disappointingly, in the same trials, only 3.4% were able to retrieve data on man-eating orchids, lying in wait just the other side of the cliff face–a problem our programmers are working on as we transmit this data to you).
Next year around this time, a whim will compel you to purchase The All-New Complete Guide to Complete Guides, 2.0–updated to prevent your desire to buy our competitors’ viral Complete Guides so that you don’t go into bankruptcy buying alternate guides. Those that do have a 27.6% probability of becoming schizophrenic, hydrophobic, and apoplectic.
That’s it! The last of the data is loaded. Enjoy you new life to the best of your ability.
Roddy looks up and there she is: an image of perfection in a blue sequined party dress, body stacked and toned to porn star perfection, auged tits pushed up and bathed in disco ball light, lip LEDs and corneal lasers flashing a come hither look that would lead most any man around by the cock and make him denounce family, friends, and god of choice for a fifteen minute pleasure romp between her legs.
So, really, Roddy can’t help but look.
But when you’re flat broke and trying to find your missing daughter, the last place you want to be is a dance club. The last thing you want to do is walk up to the most expensive girl in the room and stare. The last mistake you want to make is getting caught stealing glances you can’t afford. There are lots of lasts to avoid when you’re hanging on by your fingernails.
She knows he’s looking and flashes a diamond smile. Roddy’s cash meter dips in response. Gone are the days of you can look but you can’t touch. Now it’s you can look if you have cash and you can touch if you’ve got the credit.
His gaze lingers on her chest long enough for him to get special attention from her augs. She grows another half a cup size and bounces a little for effect. As she debits Roddy’s account again, it drops dangerously low. He looks away, but too late. She moves closer to him.
“Hey,” she says.
He looks down, but is distracted by a line of cute pink arrows that dance playfully up her bare legs, moving toward the hem of her dress. Everything about this girl screams “Look at me!”
He closes his eyes before she can suck him dry. Remember what you’re here for, he thinks.
“I’m looking for someone,” he says.
“A girl?” she asks. “Is she hot like me?”
“No,” he says. “She’s a natural.”
The silence in the room is immediate and complete. He opens his eyes to see everyone looking at him like he had screamed fuck! in church.
“A natural?” She whispers it.
He shows her an old printed photo.
“Oh.” She points to the VIP room.
Some stares and glares, then he eyes some cash at the bouncer who opens the VIP door. Barely enough left to get a taxi home.
His daughter sits in a comfy chair, surrounded by men. Even Roddy has to admit there’s nothing physically special about her. But she has no augs. She’s a natural. And they can’t take their eyes off her.
“Daddy!” she says, and holds out her hand.
“Hi, honey,” he says. He reaches down to touch her hand but the bouncer stops him.
“You have any idea how squeaky clean your credit has to be to touch this girl?” he asks.
Roddy gives him his best steely look. “I do. She’s worth it.”
He reaches for the outstretched hand and takes it, gently pulling her to her feet. She wraps her arms around him. Augs and cash and credit and instant gratification were well and good, but they weren’t flesh and blood.
“Let’s go home,” he says.
As they walk out the door Roddy’s accounts hit zero but he feels like a million bucks.
Sure there was some temporary anxiety when they took over Trenton and Allentown to carve out their independent nation of Clowninnia, but it soon settled down into a national joke, a prank on a revolutionary scale, a riffing topic for late-night talk show hosts. You could be driving up the New Jersey Turnpike near the border and see ten or fifteen of them clustered around a tiny, fuel-efficient car, their neon hair grungy, smoking cigarettes and juggling fish in complex passing patterns. On Radio Clown they talked about freedom from oppressive social norms, freedom from standard shoe sizing, freedom from objectification of women and persecution of minorities, but then commentators with voices like rubber duckies would excitedly broadcast moment-by-moment accounts of unicycle races or team juggling matches or city-wide pie throwing meets. They were quirky, non-threatening, silly–a bunch of clowns.
Sometime in the dark hours of the morning on April 1st, Clowndependence Day as they later called it, I woke up choking and blinded. Panic turned to dread as I realized that what was choking my airways and clogging my eyelids was coconut cream pie. I wiped some of the goo away and saw a freakishly white face with oversized red lips leaning over me, its kinky orange hair forming a nimbus like a flame against the light coming through the window. In the distance I heard screams, explosion, gunfire, manic laughter, bicycle horns.
I lurched out of bed and away from the silent clown who reached for me with soot-blackened kid gloves. I smelled fire. Running for the door, still trying to clear the pie from my face, I slipped on a banana peel, crashing face-first to the carpet. Moments later a four-foot tall tramp clown and a seven-foot-tall grandma clown were tying me up with orange ribbon and gagging me with a giant polka-dot handkerchief. They dragged me down the stairs, pratfalling over each other, and once out on the street they took me by my bound hands and feet and one-two-three-heaved me into the back of a pickup truck, piled in a heap with other bound captives, all of us wriggling and groaning and petrified.
As the truck rumbled to life, I caught a glimpse of fat clown standing in the middle of the street, forlornly waving goodbye. A skinny clown snuck up behind him with exaggerated stealth, a pie balanced neatly on her palm.