“First, let’s start with flavors. We’ve got Cherry Lime Surprise, Purple Rhino, Doris Day, Saliva, White Pineapple, Dark Destiny, Orange Mango, Caramel, and just about any classic rocker from the 70s.” She doesn’t look up, languid and uninterested. She leans over the counter, swiping through her tablet and listing the options, as if talking to herself. “Next, let’s talk filters,” she says. “I’ve got Infant – always a popular choice – dials everything up to 11, like viewing the world for the first time. Then, we’ve got the Elderly filter, seeing world from the point of view of someone about to die. We’ve got Low Self-Esteem Teenage Girl, High Altitude, Long Massage, Short Attention Span, Sleep Deprived, Overstuffed, Blackout Drunk, and Introspective.”
She stops swiping through her pad and falls silent. She rocks from one foot to the other, surreptitiously licking her fingers. I clear my throat and look down at the tablet.
“I’ll take Iggy Pop, with an Elderly filter.”
“Got it.” She reaches under the counter, grabs a small vial of liquid and a black cartridge. She starts unscrewing the top of the cartridge, revealing the heating coils and a small centrifuge. “You know how to use the cartridge?”
“Okay.” She screws the top back on and puts the vial and the cartridge into a plastic bag. “That comes to 85.99. We accept card or breath.”
I lean over the counter and open my mouth. She looks up, making eye contact for the first time. Then I clamp my mouth down over her eye and breathe out. It’s a long sensual moment.
She pulls back and blinks a few times.
“Alright,” she says. “Everything checks out. Would you like us to email you the receipt?”
I take La Brea to Clinton and get out in front of The Rigidware Store. I spot check for surveillance. It looks safe, but just to be sure, I pull my hood up.
“Welcome. My name is Dave. Is there anything I can do for you today?” a man with a name tag says. Behind him are rows and rows of unlabeled white boxes resting on metal shelves.
“I’m looking to do some remodeling. I need a new processor.”
“Sure thing.” He begins to lead me down an aisle, pointing at the indistinguishable plain white boxes as he speaks. “We’ve got a wide variety of processors, for any purpose or budget. We’ve got Liquid Drive 9 – which is actually filled with a nanite lactose-based substrate – Crystalline drives, Biodiesel drives, Exercise drives – which turn your treadmill or stationary bike into raw computing power – Quantum drives, Dark Matter drives, and one processor that runs entirely on human misery.”
“I’m a bit of an amateur designer myself, so I’ve been toying with dual processors.”
“Say no more. I’ve got just the thing for you.”
He leads me around to the back of the store. There, in its own glass case, under a yellow light, is a small pedestal. On it sits a single white unmarked box.
“There it is,” he says.
“It’s beautiful. What is it?”
“It’s a Chimera drive. You take three small animals and place them inside it. It splices their genes together until they’ve formed one chromosomally hyper-charged hybrid, which is then used to power the processor.”
“This is perfect.”
Back in the main aisles again, Dave looks as if he has just remembered something.
“Of course, if you’re getting a new processor, you’re going to need a new input, right?”
“Yeah. You guys sell those here?”
“Of course. We’ve got Neural Chips, Spinal Clamps, Direct Intravenous Hookups, Psychic Ports, and the new Full Body Input designed by Temple Grandin.”
“I’m a bit old-fashioned, myself. I’ll take the Spinal Clamp.”
He stops next to the sales counter and takes out a tablet. He touches it a few times.
“Do you want the lifetime warranty?”
“Does that include unnaturally extended lifetimes?”
He bites his lower lip. “Sorry. No. The warranty only lasts a single natural lifetime.”
“That’s okay. I’ll skip the warranty.”
“In that case, your total comes out to 453.65. We accept card or face mold.”
He grabs the Spinal Clamp Input and puts it in a bag with the processor.
“Do you have a molder here?”
He takes out a small black briefcase from under the checkout counter. He places it on the counter and opens it. Inside is a smooth blue cube of silicon clay. I take a deep breath and mash my face into it. Five seconds – then I lift my head up. Dave scans the mold of my face with a mobile scanner. It beeps twice.
“Great,” he says. “I’ll email you the receipt.”
I walk outside and get in my car. I put the key in the ignition, but something feels wrong, like the weight is off, so I take the bomb detector out of my trunk and do a quick scan. Nothing. I hear helicopter blades cutting the air above as I pull onto the road.
I take a left onto Highland and merge onto the 101. I take the Coldwater exit and park at the corner of Coldwater and Oxnard. The LA River is high after a month of nothing but rain. Clumps of foliage cling to the concrete banks. I stand at the edge of the river for a while. A headless action figure floats by.
I enter Matt’s Materials and find Matt himself standing behind the counter with a soldering iron and a surgical mask, inspecting a lone computer chip. A young woman sits next to him, doing her nails. She doesn’t look up.
“Hey.” He puts down the soldering iron, lifts the mask. “You looking for more titanium?”
“Not today. I’m building a new computer. I need a coolant system.”
“Awesome. What kind?”
“Well, I’ve got a Chimera Drive.”
“Cool. For that I’d say you could go with a Ready Freeze, Vacuum Pro, Void maker – that’s the one that’s quantumly entangled to particles in outer space – Cold Shoulder, or Ready Freeze Pro.”
“I’ll take a Void Maker.”
“You know, while you’re here, that new computer is gonna need a shell, am I right?”
“I’ve got some real durable computer cases if you’re interested.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Well, we’ve got Titanium, Fiberglass, Heavy Kevlar, Omniderm – which is actually made out of organic flesh, so it heals itself and
is totally biodegradable – Bone, and 24-Carat Gold cases.”
“You know, I might as well get the Kevlar case.”
“Never can be too careful.”
Matt grabs his keys from behind the counter. “I’ll head out back and grab one for you.”
He disappears into a dark backroom and the woman behind the counter stops doing her nails. She picks up a tablet and taps it twice.
“It looks like your total will be 670.43. We accept card or plasma.”
“I’ll do plasma.”
“Mmhmm.” She sits me down in a chair by the counter. She inserts a needle into my vein.
“Would you like a latte while you wait?”
She walks to the coffee machine and I watch the smooth brown liquid stream into a green ceramic cup. Then, the barista/RN returns with the latte and puts the vial of blood into a centrifuge. I take timid sips.
She holds the plasma up to the light and scrutinizes it.
“This looks good. Would you like me to email you the receipt?”
Matt walks back in with two brown boxes.
“Let me help you get this stuff into your car,” he says.
The world goes black momentarily as I stand up, but I make it to my car. I’m feeling light-headed, murky, on the drive home, but the clock’s ticking and I haven’t got much time.
At home. Finally.
I mount the processor on the titanium frame I bought last Sunday. I install the coolant system; I slip the frame into the new shell just as my alarm goes off. It’s 3PM. Time to do my daily yoga. I walk into the sauna and assemble myself into twisted shapes that challenge bone structure and gravity. I sweat heavily as I reach for the rafters, stretching my body into an arc.
I towel down while fiddling with the cartridge. I load it to the end of a long hose and blow into it hard to check for clogs. Everything seems to be working, so I load it into the port on the back of the computer case. I plug in the wireless adapter, mount the power system, solder the connections, file down the barcodes. I grab Binky, the cat; Pete, the parakeet; and Doctor Platypus, the gerbil; and push them into the Chimera Drive’s main cage. Small Tesla coil contraptions begin humming and glowing blue, so I quickly shut the cage and seal it.
I sit before the computer and run my finger along my spine, feeling the space between my vertebrae. I insert the long needle of the Spinal Clamp Input into the back of my neck and feel its little insect-like arms clamping down on my skin. It does the rest of the work on its own. I can feel my nervous system initially rebelling. My arms twitch. But eventually, the clamp overpowers my nerves, and I’m overcome with a snug, drinking-tea-at-sunset-with-a-charming-older-relative feeling. My computer boots up. Numbers, codes, secret computer languages scroll across my eyes, pump through my blood. I hold the cartridge up and put it in my mouth. I can feel the centrifuge spinning up. I can taste the Iggy Pop already. Then numbers appear on the backs of my retina. They blink, “3, 2, 1…”
I take a deep breath, sucking in the sweet fumes. I hold it, then breathe out a dragon’s breath of smoke. The world warps, bends, simmers. I lean back as everything comes apart. My blood carries warm milk to my nerves. My lungs soak up the goo of life. My brain starts shuffling cards. The color hikes up, then fades away. I see the face of death hiding in the shadows.
I am so incredibly high right now.