Sweats, by Keith Brooke

All the forensics point to Joey Bannerman – the DNA profile, the fingerprints, the pheromone signature, the security cam records… But Joey wasn’t there, he wasn’t in his body at the time of the hit. Joey is a sweat, and he was safely warehoused away while someone else paid to ride his bones… Or at least, that’s his defence.

After its initial publication in PostscriptsSweats was adapted to become part of my critically-acclaimed novel The Accord, described by SF Site as “one of the finest novels of virtual reality yet written” and by The Guardian as “not only Brooke’s best novel to date, but one of the finest to broach the subject of virtual reality”.

Sweats is available as a standalone ebook from: amazon.com (Kindle format, $0.99) and amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £0.86).

Here’s an extract…

Head Shots: a short story for Kindle

Bartie Davits is a sweat. A student working his way through business school, paying his own way because his parents are in no position to help, one of them a low-paid supermarket assistant, the other long since dead and gone. Sweating is easier than shop work, and generally safer than dealing, although he does a bit of that too – that’s just a natural extension of his business training, he always argues.

He likes the SweatShop parlour in Haymarket. Real class. You can taste it in the air.

He opens his eyes, remembering where he is, getting used to his own senses again after spending what feels like a couple of days warehoused off in netspace, playing TrueSim games while some rich wanker fools with his body.

A face looms over him, cheekbones like geometry, perfect skin, eyes like the flawless glass eyes of a perfect porcelain doll. Bartie can smell her and she’s like apples. He smiles.

“What’s the damage?” he asks.

She smiles back at him, everything symmetrical. Someone paid a fortune for those looks, he guesses.

“Narcotic residue,” she tells him. “Alcohol residue. Black eye – looks like you had a run-in with someone. That’s all, though, Mr Davits.”

No serious damage this time, then. Right now there will be drugs cleansing his blood and liver, stripping out the narcs and booze, replenishing his reserves. That’s one of the perks of sweating; some people argue that the clean-out could add years to your life. Rich wankers would pay a fortune for some of this shit and here is Bartie Davits, getting it all for free. Fuck no: getting paid for it.

“Like we agreed,” he says, sitting slowly. “Cash in hand, right?”

She smiles her professional smile again. “The fee is already in your registered account, Mr Davits, minus tax and obligatory pension, just as always. No special arrangements.”

He stands, stretches. Feels unfamiliar aches and stiffnesses. Raises a hand to his left eye, suddenly aware of its dull ache.

He looks down at his clothes: a slick pair of jeans, a crumpled silk t-shirt, pointed snakeskin boots, none of it his. There’s a bag on the side containing his own newly laundered clothes. The new outfit – another perk.

He hopes his body had a good time while he was warehoused.

Funny to think that his own body has had far more diverse experience than he himself has – and he knows nothing about it other than a bunch of hints and signs and scars…

Out along a corridor, mirrored walls multiplying him, bright lights making him squint. Into the foyer, all tall, angular plants emerging from chrome pots full of glass pebbles. The street outside looks dark through the clinic’s floor-to-ceiling tinted glass front.

The cops grab Bartie as he steps outside. He’s just wondering whether it’s a Comedy Store night, who might be on. Maybe he’ll call a few mates and front them for a night out, make the most of the new wad in his bank account. But the cops have other ideas.

He steps out through glass and chrome doors that slide open as they sense his approach. He has time to notice the sudden clash of warm scented air from the interior of the clinic mixing with the smells of the damp London street, has time to emerge into the drizzle, to look left, then start to look right and then they’re on him.

A sudden rush of figures… Two men step out from his right and as he opens his mouth to speak, to curse them for jostling him, for not looking where they’re going even though it’s actually Bartie who has stepped out into the flow, another two take him from the left. His arms gripped tightly, he smells something cloyingly sweet, realises someone has sprayed something, feels it infiltrating his lungs as he breathes it deep, hears the gabble of street noise suddenly fizz to static, to nothing…

~

…wakes in a cell.

He remembers now, the men grabbing him, the prickle of some kind of nerve agent in his lungs. He realises they were police, some in uniform, some not. He hadn’t had time to take it all in as they descended on him, in the sudden rush of sensation as the foundations of a normal day were abruptly pulled from under him.

He’s on a bunk, a brick wall to his immediate left, a narrow strip of floor and then another bare brick wall to the right. There’s a door at one end of the cell, past his feet, with a viewing panel set into it. In one corner of the room, where two walls meet ceiling, the glinting eye of a security cam peers back at him.

He sits, rubs at his temples as dizziness settles.

Down on the concrete floor, he presses his feet against the wall and starts on sit-ups, rapid and regular, enjoying the rush of blood and adrenalin that kick in with the exercise. Bartie likes to look after himself. It keeps the brain in tune as well as the body. And his rich clients like a fit sweat to ride in, so it’s a good career move, if sweating can really be considered a career.

He’s past 150 when he hears the door. He carries on until a man says, “Bartie Davits. You’re wanted for interview.”

“Interview?” he asks, pausing, twisting to see the uniformed man framed by the doorway. “Like for a job?”

The policeman just looks at him, waits for him to stand, steps back to let him out into the corridor.

A short time later, Bartie is sitting in another room, elbows on a desk. There’s a plain clothes officer across the table from him, a uniformed man on the door.

“Bartholomew Brooklyn Davits,” says the officer, “we have reason to suspect your involvement in the murder of Elector Nathan Burnham at his retreat in Jakarta on the 23rd of this month. This interview is being recorded and your responses processed for veracity by smart systems from two independent vendors. Anything you do or say may be used as evidence in a court of law. Do you understand?”

Bartie stares at the man. “I understand your words,” he says slowly, “but fuck no, I don’t understand.”

The officer has a feed going into his ear. He receives some kind of input, nods, and his eyes meet Bartie’s again.

Then Bartie adds, “Burnham? Elector Burnham? The virtual worlds guy? Dead?” At a brief nod, he continues, “I… I’ve been out of it a couple of days. I hadn’t heard. I sweat rides, you know? I was sweating, warehoused in a data-bank somewhere while some rich fuck rode my bones, you know?”

Another pause, while the officer listens to his feed, then: “Elector Burnham was killed by a kid called Joey Bannerman.”

“So… I don’t understand?”

“Bannerman was gapyearing round the world, ran out of cash, took to sweating to get by. He was ridden by the killer.”

Bartie gets it, he thinks. “Not me, man… I didn’t do nothing. I was warehoused, playing TrueSim strategy games in perfect isolation. Check out the records: I was pumped into a databank and kept clean and cut off from the world. They have to do that. Data integrity and all that: have to put back what they take out!” He laughs awkwardly.

“We don’t think it was you, as such,” says the officer.

Bartie relaxes, hasn’t realised how much tension he’d been holding in. Then he registers the “as such” and he sees from the officer’s expression that there’s more, a layer yet to unpick. “And?”

“We’ve pattern-matched traits identified from the data-feed that injected the killer into Bannerman’s skull. The killer was an amalgam, a construct. Whoever was behind the assassination took a few traits from here, a few from there, and built the killer suited for the job.”

Bartie waits. There’s more.

“It’s a known technique. Developed by the Yakuza but it’s been seen in a number of cases now. The way they do it is they have to have a solid foundation, a template, someone who could easily be a killer in the right circumstances, with the right traits added, remixed, recompiled. We’ve identified the template, Davits. We’ve tracked down that individual. It’s you.”

Bartie shakes his head. “But it wasn’t me!” he finally says. “I was warehoused, isolated… It wasn’t me.”

“Your profile was used,” says the officer. “Edited, built upon. We’re talking legal grey areas here. Our advice is that this could be the test case to beat all test cases. Could take years.”

The officer is enjoying this, Bartie suddenly realises. “How do you mean?”

“It’s all about legal culpability,” the officer explains. “When due process proves that you were the template used in this crime, and when it is demonstrated that the killer was substantiallyyou, then you will share legal culpability for the killing.”

“But… I wasn’t there.”

“No, that’s true. But there is evidence to show that a statistically significant instance of you was…”

This story continues in Sweats, an ebook by Keith Brooke.

Available from:

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About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

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