A New Dave

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Originally published 7 August 2001 at Backwash.com

Bells jingled as he opened the door. Quaint, he thought, looking up at the source of the chimes. A small hook of spring steel supported 3 tiny sleighbells, just low enough to brush against the top of the door. The lad wondered how long those bells had been there, to cut such a deep groove into the heavy door. Genuine wood doors were hard to come by -- the one and only place he had ever seen wooden doors was back in the offices where he worked, up on the floors where he wasn't normally allowed. His former job is what brought the young man down to the old part of town, but he didn't particularly want to be reminded of his reasons.

He was very out of place in the older sections of town. In order not to appear to be a tourist, or to seem rich enough to be carrying the wad of cash that he was, he had stopped at a friend's house to borrow some older clothes. "I have to paint," he explained, "and I don't have anything I particularly want to wreck." The raggy clothes still made him feel out of place. Old Downtown was genuinely old. It didn't look "new yet mistreated" like the last year's fashions he was wearing. Everything was an antique, right out of his parents' photo albums, old movies, or history books.

In his other pocket, the one without the money, was a slip of paper. Memorizing numbers was a talent he had long forgotten. Computers always handled everything, and he spent his life telling computers what to do, but he couldn't trust this information to be left inside a machine. The address on the paper matched the address on the door, this old wooden door with metal chimes.

A smiling woman greeted him from behind the counter, "How do you do?" She offered her hand to shake his, and the young man took it, shook in a single motion, and released.

An older gentleman, spectacles, shirt unbuttoned down to his belly, appeared from behind a bedsheet hung across the door to a back room.

"Are you Harry?" asked the boy.

"Yeah, but I try to shave." Harry chuckled, as though he had never told the joke before. The young man mustered a slight smile.

"I was told to ask about your rental service. I need a new....place to live."

Harry hated the pause. Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge, like he was some sort of pimp. The code is so that nobody says anything suspicious, but the uptown kids always sound suspicious when they say it. Harry gestured toward the curtained dorway. "Thanks, Gladys," he said to the woman manning the counter, who smiled politely in response as Harry led the customer into the back room.

Harry already knew what the customer was after, even without the code. Gladys cost him a lot of money; "Gladiola" is her official version name. He had a "Petunia" before, but she wasn't convincing enough. People from the suburbs are accustomed to seeing androids & clones around the arcologies, but encountering a polite friendly one in a run-down building made them uneasy. So as not to scare away any more customers, Harry splurged for a top-of-the-line model, and his profits paid for her in a couple months.

He needed an android for the handshake. Door-mounted readers are visible & detectable, but the direct-skin contact allowed for undetectable reading of a person's tag. As soon as the kid's hand met the android's palm, a display in the back room had statistics on the new customer pulled up in an instant.

Long records, especially credit listings, always indicate someone with problems to fix. On the crappy side of town, only rich people in need of help are so ready to shake a stranger's hand anyway. Censored records were an even bigger tipoff, and this boy, couldn't be more than 20, Harry thought, had far more confidentally-hidden data than he should. Must be very important, to need Harry's services.

"Sit down." The boy eased himself into the chair.

I'm getting old, Harry complained silently to himself, as he struggled to carry the apparatus over to the dentist's chair. Homemade, a basketball-sized doughnut full of steel bars & scavanged wiring, it weighed over 50 pounds. He slipped the customer's hand through the center of the coil, centered it on the kid's forearm, and stepped over to a console in a dark corner. Harry flashed a thumbs-up to the kid, and he gave one back.

Just before throwing the first switch, Harry stopped himself. Running back over to the chair, he fit the ear-protectors on the young man's head.

Exchanging thumb-ups one last time, Harry threw the Start switch. The young man's hair began to stand on end, and a faint whine originated from somewhere behind him. A green light illuminated Harry's face, and he pressed the "GO" button.

A loud BANG rattled the glass windows in the front of the store, jingling the bells on the door just a bit, attracting Gladys' attention. The young man screamed, more out of fear than pain.

"Fuck! What did you do to me?!?" the boy demanded as Harry slipped the coil off his arm.

"What, you didn't know what this was?"

"NO! I thought you reprogrammed it, or something!"

"You can't just reprogram the tag -- you need a pulse, EMP, to pop it. "

The boy rubbed his wrist, watching the bruised ring around his arm turn a sickly orange.

"Well, if you wreck it, how do I get a new--"

He broke off his sentence, and started to bolt as Harry brandished a six-inch hypodermic needle.

"Sit the fuck down. You won't get very far without this, and it'll hurt like hell unless I do it right away."

The young man closed his eyes tight, and started to cry. Harry jammed in the needle at the customer's elbow, running down the length of the forearm, so that it slid in between the two bones. They both felt pressure as the tip dug into bone at the right spot, and Harry pressed a button. Click, it went, and Harry withdrew the needle.

"You put a new one in? You can program new ones?"

"What are you, a software engineer or something?" Harry already knew the answer was yes.

"The chip isn't programmed -- it's got one half of a big number permanently recorded on it. The two are halves of a key. You got your half, the government gets the other half. All your data gets recorded with the government's half of the number, so there's nothing to program - anyone who gets both halves can get your info. You don't want to know where your new tag came from, but the key pulls up a blank file, basic stuff - bank account, credit line, high school transcript and some other crap. Here you go --" Harry handed the kid a small datacard, "-- this has a copy of your new personal data on it. Don't lose it, or you'll look pretty stupid for not knowing your own name. Have a nice life, Dave. Gladys will take your payment."

"You're sure this worked, now, because these guys are gonna--"

"Shut the hell up. I don't want to know why you needed a new chip. Leave me out of it. Pay for it, and get out."

Harry went back to his TV, catching a glimpse of the young man in some footage on the news channel, something about corporate espionage. He heard Gladys thank Dave, and the bells jingled as he left the shop.