PlutoniumSex raised his left hand from the neuropad, in wrapt attention as a drop of sweat stretched downward from his index finger. The exaggerated focus from the taxotropin allowed him to watch the process at a leisurely pace, magnified until it took up his entire field of vision and decelerated, by orders of magnitude —a slomo zoom on a slow processor— and superimposed like a bad fade on top of the icons and links which connected the web with his brain. Good lysergic material, but a nuisance in the middle of The Space. PlutoniumSex was bothered by his id, which forced him to be conscious of Flesh; another pathetic rebellion of protein against silicon.
Suddenly, PlutoniumSex understood: environmental heat. Sweat means heat: that was the message which his id had slipped in like a subliminal image over his synaptic interface. He would not have guessed that it was warm.
PlutoniumSex pulled out of The Space and ordered a dose of sympathetic complex from his Metabolix, as well as a cocktail of neurophysiological stabilizers. While he waited for these to kick in, he ordered a complete rundown of hardware, with emphasis on any problems which might cause thermal dissipation up to the third synergetic level. PlutoniumSex did not have the foggiest idea what was happening.
Once he found himself active, PlutoniumSex also found himself heated up, slick, sticky with pure sweat, a disgusting mess of sweat, smells and more Flesh. Apparently the problem was very serious and had been developing for some time, and the worst of it was that the system alarm had not sounded. PlutoniumSex lifted himself up on his arm and remained on his side, enabling him to see his flatmate, BlueFly, lying, just like him, on a bed capsule, his entire body gleaming with perspiration. PlutoniumSex looked at his white abdomen and hip. It too oozed humidity.
Because the surface of the bed was composed of tensor gel, it was slippery with sweat, and this made it difficult for PlutoniumSex to maneuver, first to remove his catheters and then to exit. That was further complicated by his own lack of muscle tone and coordination. He ended up slipping onto the floor with more or less controlled stumbles and painful twists of his limbs. Finally he crossed the two meters that separated him from Bluefly and began to press the pads on his console. He had no appetite for tackling this problem alone.
While Bluefly went through the same process of disengagement, PlutoniumSex ran through the results of the evaluation in his head. The system recognized an increase in temperature but did not register any functional problems: everything was working perfectly. PlutoniumSex sighed. He would have to identify the problem himself and, even worse, fix it. It was then that he felt it, or, more precisely, didn't feel it.
Whenever he had stood, the few times that that he had stood in this room, PlutoniumSex had felt the smooth freshness of refrigerated air falling down from the ceiling over his head and shoulders like a smooth benediction, but now he was not feeling it. The refrigeration was not functioning. Was it... broken? PlutoniumSex shuddered just thinking about it. He understood that things broke down, whether from inherent defects, bad use or fatigue, but all his experience in this regard was limited to the computational, and the solution was always easy: deactivate the function temporarily and buy another unit. But as far as refrigeration was concerned, PlutoniumSex knew nothing about anything. He did not know how it broke, let alone how to fix it. He needed to find someone who would know, and that someone didn't seem to be Bluefly.
PlutoniumSex opened the door and walked into the hallway.
He stopped dead in his tracks in shock.
A hasty and asthmatic line was coursing through the hallway, like bubbles in the physiological serum inside a clear plastic hose. Othernights with their days numbered and themselves well aware of it, baby10s who had not reached 7 and who could be bought for the price of a 4, intensoids with feverish eyes, posttribals nonviolent for the moment, toughskins with invincible, reptilian features, neomen, their implants unstitched, plug-ins that were the spitting image of PlutoniumSex, totals with zombimorphic plastic faces, junkies in the worst moment of withdrawal, traffickers in both real and counterfeit weapons, shredlings having just escaped a nightmare of mutilations, mutes that would give them a fair fight, marked1s more fearful even than usual, pansexuals with every port duplicated into redundancy, anodized leadies in a bright variety of colors; and many more species and subspecies, including unique individuals, humans even.
"What's happening?" PlutoniumSex grabbed a total by its rubbery shoulders and stopped it. "Where are you going?"
"Outside," replied the total, a creature which specialized in the manipulation of bony structure. "Refrigeration and the ventilation are down, and nobody in the building can stand it any more."
"Why doesn't somebody fix it?"
The total shook its head. "Can't. The same plug-in who let himself into the building Net some time ago and raised all of our levels says that the system is up to who knows what."
"Maybe the central machinery is broken. Someone should go fix it."
"Well, I don't even know where that is. Do you?"
"So then call the repair company. Let them come."
The total looked at PlutoniumSex as if he had slipped a cog. "Who would come?" He added sarcastically, "Not even the Army comes here!"
PlutoniumSex stood watching the wide back of the total as it marched through the hallway. No, he didn't know how to fix the refrigeration machinery. PlutoniumSex could evaluate and assemble all kind of electronic pieces and use them to build complete computing systems, but he sputtered like an overloaded outlet when faced with the slightest mechanical problem. Probably everyone in the building was at the same level of incompetence or worse. In this slagheap of technocriminal subcultures, everyone knew how to rob, traffic and sell any object, including his own body or others', but nobody knew how to work, how to do anything useful, boring, laborious and certainly nothing as poorly paying as fixing plumbing and compressors, or whatever it was that made up a refrigeration system. PlutoniumSex returned to his room, put on a robe of transgenic silk and joined up with the procession of bubbles. Bluefly could follow him if he wished, as soon as he got up.
After an exhausting descent through the stairs —the elevators were both the location and the motive for turf wars— PlutoniumSex arrived at the crowd milling around in the courtyard that opened out onto the front of the building. People were sitting on the ground, taking up an enormous area, occupying all the walking space, including the entrance itself. Everybody was in the way. PlutoniumSex waded through the mass between protests and punches until he reached the outermost zone, and he sat down right there. Little by little others joined him, walking past him in ever more lines of beings seated like him, with their legs picked up and hugging their knees, or in other squeezed positions. Since the night was cold and a breeze was blowing, the people tended to huddle in search of a little warmth; but huddling alone in distrust and precaution.
PlutoniumSex raised his eyes to the gray sky, closed off between walls of steel and glass. It looked as desperate as he was in this world of nonsensical consumption, unreal economics, useless professions, unsustainable disorder, wickedly unnatural images and ridiculous marginality of so much institutionality. "God," PlutoniumSex said, burying his head between his knees. "How I hate cyberpunk!"
Original title: Náufragos
Translation: Daniel W. Koon