by Jack Wallen
Excerpt from the cyberpunk reimagined novel Lament available now …
Garbage in. Garbage out.
In a world ruled by Big Data and BigPharma, society’s only hope falls into the hands of neophyte data jockeys known as Somnambulace. While the human race was jacking in and sucking down a few ones and zeros to ride the Lament, Somnambulous discovered something big and dark on the horizon.
Big Data had Big Pharma.
Big Pharma had Lament.
Lament had everyone.
On the heels of their discovery, Somnambulous sends their strongest coder into Ocular Reality to recruit the one construct that could put an end to both Big Data and Big Pharma.
000 — the prologue
The hack’s the thing. At least, that’s what we told ourselves as neophyte data jockeys, sipping liquid candy crush through straws the size of our fingers. Truth be told, during our alpha period, it wasn’t as much about the hack as it was the high.
The rush. The crush. The speed-induced thrill of knowing the comedown wouldn’t occur in binary. In those moments we were gods and goddesses. We’d entwine our limbs into an ouroborus of flesh, until you had no idea if your fingers were dancing across ribs or a keyboard. It didn’t matter then…the outcome was the same.
Garbage in, garbage out.
The early days.
We were young and dumb and forever searching out the next big high.
Until we found it. And by it, I mean that final high you never truly survive. That paradox of junkie justice. A soul-crushing, brain-squeezing, heart-tripping dubstep drug that did everything and nothing.
We didn’t even realize what we’d done. Outside of forming a ragtag group of coders who thought we were as cool as those cyber trash-core films of the thirties, we really had no clue what was going on around us. At the time, Big Data ruled the planet. A handful of major conglomerates held every politician, corporation, and ultra-millionaire by the balls and would gently squeeze now and then to remind them who was truly in control. Simultaneously, Big Pharma, aka PharmCon, still had the ego from their golden days and were certain they’d tilt the wheel of power back into their favor.
Big fucking deal, right?
Our group, Somnambulous—it was a shitty name, we knew it—happened upon magic late one night. It was really nothing more than a happy accident. It was Curfew. We were all playing nice and jacked into Connect. The powers that be had finally figured out how best to puppeteer the human race. Every night at ten pm, all living humans had to plug in and upload their truth.
We the people. In order to form an imperfect union.
It only took us a week to reverse-engineer the system and figure out what Connect did and how it worked. That’s when the perfect storm hit. We discovered the human data jacks weren’t one way.
Garbage out…garbage in.
Initially, we called it the Parallax…because there was no way of knowing what would come of it. Had we known what our little experiment would become, Somnambulous would never have tasted that first byte of data.
Yeah, that was us…our doing. We were the ones who discovered the ultimate high.
It all started out so innocently. Jack in, suck down a few ones and zeroes, and ride the Lament. It was a mellow high you couldn’t get anywhere else. No controlled substance could match the ride.
Like any drug, the more you do it…the more you needed to do it. To make matters worse, we realized—fairly quickly, I must say—that the more important the data, the higher the high. That’s why we focused our sights on Big Pharma. It was a magic bit of irony to steal from biggest pusher on the planet and mainline their ones and zeroes. Patient information—insurance, social security numbers, credit cards, allergies, STDs, addresses, maiden names. We drank it all down.
Before we knew it, we were data junkies. We’d spend days under throes and woes of information. Each time we jacked in, more and more data was pumped into our neural network gray matter. Our little members-only club was something fiercely special, and Somnambulous promised not to allow the phreak to be unleashed. The last thing we wanted was to share the show with the rest of the bi-pedal bastards. This was our party and fuck the world.
Or so it should have gone. Unfortunately, there’s a law named after a man called Murphy. When he wields Occam’s razor, bad shit follows. One night during an epic download, one of the Somnambulists neglected to switch the data flow valve to one way and we backfed into the system. Petabytes of the purest data was sent flowing back out during Curfew.
That’s how the Lament Age began. Thousands of humans instantly addicted to a substance they couldn’t acquire on the street. No matter how hyped we were to know Somnambulous had created an enlightened state for the whole of mankind, we also knew that our actions dropped a sledgehammer crashing down on what little freedom we had.
Lament was the name we’d given the overwhelming crave for data. It systematically turned those in need of a fix into zombies. Their minds would slowly shut down until they could jack in and fill up.
The actions of Somnambulous had the added effect of unleashing a global war between Big Data and Big Pharma. The human population drained Big Data of its sole commodity, while simultaneously spiraling into a very dark and paranoid place. Big Pharma tossed every drug they had at humanity in hopes that something would solve the underlying issue. What Pharma didn’t realize was that no pill could match the high of data or stave off Lament.
The war got ugly and sent the world into a near-apocalyptic state. Every cyberpunk film from that golden age of movies had come true. We were Bladerunner, The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, and even a dash of Max Headroom all blended together. Humanity had fallen victim to a god named William Gibson, and data would be our undoing.
By the way, my name is Jet. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I was the one who discovered the Lament. I’d give anything to step through a wormhole, travel back ten years, and prevent that perfect storm from coalescing.
Unfortunately, time travel isn’t a thing. At least not yet. Or maybe it is. It could be I’ve simply failed to stop myself from being so fucking brilliant.
God help me.
Now that you’re up to speed on where the world is now, I’ll shut up. I haven’t jacked in for a while and my brain is spinning down. Until you’ve jonesed for data, you haven’t lived.
Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He has a Masters Degree in education and he taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of many short stories including work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5, Zombies More Recent Dead, Shadows Over Mainstreet, and Truth or Dare. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within the world of the novel The Sound May Suffer. He also wrote the novels Loose Ends and Time Eaters. He is one of the four authors behind the Hellmouth trilogy. He cowrote The Enemy Held Near with Armand Rosamilia. Jay Wilburn is a regular columnist with Dark Moon Digest. Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Periscope as @AmongTheZombies, his Facebook author page, and at JayWilburn.com