Smashwords Edition, License Notes




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Tattoo

a novella


Jeffrey R. Butler

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2012


Smashwords Edition, License Notes.


Thank you for downloading this free eBook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to Smashwords.com to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.


More information about Jeffrey Butler and his works can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/JRButler.writer

or through select, online book retailers.

Metallic scent, electric ink. Glowing sigils flow across my chest; a lost alphabet, new circuits illuminating tribal patterns.


Joey was the only one I trusted to tattoo the mod, what with half my enhancements being old-school, and all of them custom. I still had implants for chrissakes, laid in when doped nanotubes were still bleeding edge. Joey had been doing my work since university, since before I was expelled. Not that they’d been able to prove anything.

I was here, finally. I’d spent the last six months banging my head against a wall of circuits and code, and the burn of the tattoo would be my reward. I’d finally worked it out.

Black Hole, my band, would love it.

Sure, Sonic Death and The Happy Torturers had managed to get some crazy holographic effects using bulky external signal amplifiers. They even made all the clunky equipment part of their show, working it into their whole TechDeathMetal aesthetic.

Black Hole had a more stripped-down sound, a stripped-down idea, just like my new tech. With the mods I’d made to my neural implant, we’d be able to do costume changes, even identity changes, with the flip of a thought. Joey didn’t like the idea much. “You think that’s anything close to wise? I’ve heard stories of spooks using neural implants to control people.”

C’mon Joey, what’s the big deal? I’ve had these implants for years. You know they’re hardened and insulated, so I’d never have to worry about unauthorized access to my head. Ever since the government spooks started putting passive EEG readers in the bus stations.” I gestured at the electromagnets that Joey needed to follow the board inking process. “Otherwise my head would have blown up when you turned those on. Besides, mine is so custom that they’d never be able to make enough sense of it to hack it.”

They could… slave it to another implant...” said Joey, flipping a switch.”

Yeah, sure, but those stories are just that, stories. Even if that were possible, the mods I’m making to the implant would make no difference. And I made sure the band got as good as I did.”

I guess so, man. Anyway, we’re done here. You’re ready for the install.”

As the hum of the magnets faded, so did the glow of my newly-inked circuits, and I was left with my traditional ink. They were mostly Tlingit and Haida, but I had a few Yakuza rip-offs done years ago to give me street cred, back when I worried about that shit.

I nodded towards the now quiet machinery. “New MRI assembly?”

Yeah, Doc Johnson needed some work done on a new gamer dermals. Some good work, but ugly as hell. I prettied up the circuit pattern so it’d look good when the kids slapped ‘em on skin, and took payment in trade. He even helped me with a few tweaks.”

I looked at the machinery again. It had been modified a fair bit but… “Those are Janssen 1340s, aren’t they? Solid work.”

Yeah, and they have room for custom upgrades. Now quit stalling.”

I flipped Joey the bird. He just smiled. Swinging my legs off the side of the couch, I shuffled over to his workstation. I placed my right hand against the neural interface and picked up the memory stick with my left thumb and forefinger. The computer desktop overlaid my vision, the real world appearing only as a faint image on my retina. I turned down the overlay intensity so I could still see Joey, and activated the program install. I waited, and felt the burn of the new circuits as they activated. It was a fine gridwork of lines and nodes: contrasting angular grids for the logic boards, and flowing, branching lines along my nervous system. Joey, as always, had laid them with an artist’s eye.

Well?” Joey said.

Yeah, yeah, give me a fucking minute. That was a big board, you know. Neural inhibitors or not, that still fucking stings.”

Yeah, well wait until you get the real ink – no neural inhibitors for that, you pussy.”

Whatever, ya bloody sadist.” I paused, made a few keystrokes to move the install along and said, “So, you heard that new track from Biloxi? Shitty drums, but that girl’s got one kickass voice.”

You’re just a sucker for a pretty voice, but yeah, it’s not bad.”

And you’re just a snob – you think that if it isn’t incomprehensible then it’s a sellout.”

What I think is that good art isn’t easy,” Joey retorted.

Depends on the art,” I said.

Even simple is hard. You love all that Zen shit, you should know that.”

Hard to do maybe, not hard to understand. You just want to have something the masses can’t touch,” I said.

I don’t mind if the masses touch it, I just object if they get it grimy with use. I mean, Jesus, using Iggy Pop to sell Hummers?” said Joey.

And that was just too good a straight line to miss. The program had finished installing, and I had some old Iggy files in memory, so I did the video and audio overlays and sang, “Your skin starts itchin’ once you buy the gimmick.”

Joey fell out of his chair, his eyes wide, and then he laughed. “It works, man, even the facial when you talk! You did it, you really fucking did it! And you’ve got the audio boards in perfect sync.”

I walked over to the mirror and ran my hands over ‘Iggy’s’ face. The algorithms adjusted quite well, so I didn’t look like I was burying my hands in my face. There was a little distortion, but not much – it would only need a little tweaking. I wasn’t a small guy, but sure enough I now had Iggy’s build; ripped, but skinny as a scarecrow. The holograms made my body smaller, covered parts of me with the image of empty space.

I pushed the empty space a little further, and Joey made a strangled sound as I disappeared. I moved quietly to the other side of the shop and turned off the field.

A god-damned cloaking device! You could be a Klingon.”

I flipped on that image for a second.

Joey gaped and laughed again. “Christ man, I’m tempted to take up burglary.”

If it were that simple so would I, but no one trusts cameras these days; they can be hacked too easily. Even if you were invisible, you’d never get past the doors locked with biometric cards, they’re everywhere these days. When I discover antigrav, then I’ll be an awesome catburgler.”

Well, yesterday I would’ve laughed at your ego, but today… man. This blows the hell out of anything that Jenkins ever did for the Torturers.”

Thanks.”


Two days later I was back in Joey’s shop with the other four members of the band, who were getting the new holo-boards inked in and tested. Pitch nailed the interface fastest, which didn’t surprise me as she spent a lot of time in the online MUDs. That’s where she developed her dress sense – sometimes cool; often very, very bad, but it worked for the band. If you don’t have a lead singer with a tendency towards fashion crimes, then you might as well go mainstream. Zeke and Billy figured out the interface soon enough; both music geeks, they loved the technology as much as I did; already the two of them had their heads together, Billy’s mohawk brushing against the dead platinum that Zeke insisted was a stylish colour. I was looking forward to seeing what they would do with the system; they had begun playing with some random visual effects, streaks of colour rolling up Zeke’s bass, flashes of lightning spraying from each power chord that Billy struck on his guitar. They were chatting about how they’d link with some of their audio boards.

Pitch shook her head and smiled, amused at their antics, but she seemed to have something else on her mind. She walked closer to Joey, who was still working on Ned. Ned’s new ink was beginning to shine, Joey activated the circuits as he progressed, now down Ned’s left arm. As she approached the humming magnets, her own board started to shimmer just above her root chakra, dark ink taking on a glow. She had on her torn black tank top, which she’d left hiked up to just under her breasts after her work had finished, showing off a pale white belly and the new ink on her back. Her leather pants, with the de rigeur trucker’s belt, rode low on her hips.

My eyes followed the luminescence twisting up her spine like the twisting branches of a tree, branching out along her arms and legs, even around to her temples, giving her a halo of sorts. Pitch had always had a rather...distracting effect on me, but I’d always avoided getting involved. Being a lead singer meant always being a tease; everything, everyone, a challenge.

She put her hand on Ned’s shoulder, just above the activated circuits. “How’s it going, Ned? Holding up okay?” she asked.

I’m good, Pitch,” said Ned.

You like the shine?” asked Pitch.

It’s not really me now is it, eh?” said Ned. “But it looks good on you.” He paused, and then continued, “Sexy.”

She smiled at him, and Ned gave a comfortable grin back. I didn’t know how he did it; he could look at her and see her, but he obviously wasn’t compelled by her. And she was okay with that. She looked over her shoulder, admiring the ink right at the base of her spine. Then she looked at me, looking at her, and the smile became a wicked grin. My throat went dry.

Yeah,” she replied to Ned, still looking at me. “I like’em. Kinda flash - maybe I should show them off a little.”

Struggling for a little cool, I went on the offensive. “What the fuck?” I demanded. “They’re not decorations, they’re there for the show.”

Pitch laughed. “And the effects aren’t just fashion, are they? These aren’t just off-the-shelf dermals that I can peel off to slap on something new and pretty, right? Look at it, it’s part of me. Instead of my past on my skin, it’s my future.”

I laughed. “It’ll be an obsolete future in a few years.”

Then I’ll get upgraded. Or not. Either way it’ll be my skin, my ink. Electric or indigo.”

She ran her hands along the shimmering lines of her arms and neck and gave herself a hug. A dark angel, glowing with tech and tease.


The next day Zeke told us his plan. That was Zeke; he was the one who kept all of our rather strong personalities pulling in the same direction. How such a sweet guy had ended up with a guttermouth like Billy was one of the more bizarre romantic mysteries I’ve witnessed, but it seemed to work for them.

None of us objected, except Billy – but that was to be expected, especially since the plan involved Vijay the owner of the legendary bar, Revolver. Billy had never liked Vijay. We talked over some of the details and then rehearsed in our little shitbox of a studio. The next day found us heading downtown to Queen Street, to implement ‘the fancy-assed plot,’ as Billy called it. The rest of the gang was keen on the plan, but all I was thinking about was sinking my teeth into the Revolver’s Huevos rancheros. Vijay made the dish with chutney that even made mornings worthwhile.

Vijay,” Zeke called out as we came in.

Vijay turned. He was a tall chap, rail-thin, with the face of a Punjabi warlord, and he could be one of the most intimidating and foul-tempered people I’d ever met. A handy thing when you run one of the most successful alt-rock bars in the city. When he saw Zeke, he broke into a giant gleaming white smile. “Zeke baby, have you finally come to your senses and decided to leave that rabid dog you’ve been dating?”

The rabid dog is right here, you ass-licking piece of shit,” said Billy helpfully.

As charming as ever, you poor excuse for maggot fodder.”

Billy and Vijay barely tolerated each other; the absence of fisticuffs was only for Zeke’s sake.

Vijay gave me and the gang a quick glance. “Ah,” he said, “I see you’ve brought the whole posse. How... delightful.”

Zeke turned round before anyone could respond to Vijay’s scorn and said, “Just be quiet and go sit down, okay?”

Vijay smiled at that. “Yes, please do. Meanwhile Zeke and and I will sit and converse like adults, hmmm?”

I heard Pitch mutter “Fuck,” under her breath, and I exchanged a glance with her. Apparently Billy wasn’t the only one who found Vijay annoying. hen I looked over at Ned, he looked down, hiding his expression, but not before I saw the amused little grin on his face. I glared, but he seemed impervious to my Jedi powers.

As we sat down, the waitress approached. She smiled as she tucked her pen behind an ear that jangled with piercings. “Hey Pitch, what's up?“ And in an instant they were deep in conversation, leaving the three of us to slowly starve and slide horribly into caffeine withdrawal. I took the opportunity to let my eyes trace the tattoos on the waitress’s arms, and to drink in her ample curves, without Pitch, or the waitress herself, noticing. Ned was doing the same thing. Billy had other concerns and kept shooting irritated glances at Zeke and Vijay (I noticed they already had their coffees).
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