And They Will Not Be Stopped
by Simon Logan
From amidst the crowds gathered around the dairy cabinets Dariuz picks out the woman who will shortly become his first victim of the night.
She’s homely in a pair of jogging pants and a tank top and although she is slim she has little definition, her figure more a reflection of good genes than a healthy regime. She maneuvers her cart past a large woman whose waistline resembles a balloon inflated to near-bursting point and he muses how nobody really ever makes eye contact once they are inside. He has carefully followed the woman from the previous aisle and like the other shoppers she traces the guide lines that are marked out in the shiny flooring, invisible to the naked eye but still picked up subconsciously, coaxing her from shelf to shelf, from display to display regardless of what she had actually come in for.
Lina is further up the aisle, pretending to read the sticker on a large tub of natural yoghurt. She glances in his direction and gives him a nod of confirmation.
He moves past the fat lady and is right behind the woman now. He reaches into his pocket and withdraws the syringe as she scans the products on display. He looks around quickly to make sure there are no floor security. He waits until she picks one of the cartons and then plunges the syringe into her back, pressing on a metallic button on its top and there is a pneumatic hiss as the serum is injected into her. The woman jolts but makes no sound, turns to her right, probably thinking that some other idiot has merely bumped into her with their cart and he makes his escape to her left, unseen.
He slows as he gets to the end of the aisle and joins up with Lina and it’s then that the woman begins to scream.
She staggers backwards as if struck and is caught by a teenage boy but she bounces off of him, spinning around, her eyes wide, the tendons in her neck emerging like power lines. He knows that the images will now be flooding into her mind – images of swollen, infected udders, of cows collapsing to the ground on legs unable to hold them up, of blood and of misery. The other shoppers back off, avoiding her as if she were nothing more than a spilled jar of pasta sauce. She suddenly raises the carton of milk high above her and there are tears streaming down her face when she slams it into the ground.
It explodes, spraying milk everywhere and she is shrieking now, grabbing other cartons from people’s hands and from their carts and throwing them away. She tries to rob a young pregnant woman of the 8 liter container she has just plucked from the shelves but the woman’s husband steps in, shoving his victim hard in her chest.
She flies backwards into the cabinets but the screaming doesn’t stop.
“The guerrillas are here,” Yuan says as he bursts into the office, one hand on the semi-automatic pistol strapped to his thigh.
Lo-Pen, hands spread across the glowing surface of his desk, nods. He sweeps his fingers across the tiny Braille-like studs to one side and the images of quarterly sales reports vanishes from the gleaming façade to be replaced by a series of CCTV images coming live from the store floor. He traces further patterns into the studs and they illuminate briefly at his touch leaving behind a fading ghost of the shapes he has drawn. The CCTV images rotate through one another until he finds the one he wants and brings it into focus.
A woman lies on the floor of the dairy aisle, her body shuddering as if she were having a seizure, people stepping over her to get to the cartons. Lo-Pen caresses the studs once more and the office is filled with the woman’s babbling.
“ … can’t you see! They’re not even able to … Jesus!! Why don’t they …?!”
He snaps the audio onto mute and swivels around in his chair. “Blinds.”
The wall behind him shimmers and becomes translucent, revealing the expanse of the MegaMart far beneath him, the shoppers crowded in amongst aisle after aisle of product. He squints at the far corner and can just about make out the commotion being played out on the desk-screen.
“Get your teams together,” he says over his shoulder. “Lock down all exits and do whatever you have to do to stop them.”
Dariuz and Lina maintain their pace for several minutes until the screams of the woman have faded to nothing, ducking from aisle to aisle and occasionally stopping to pretend to examine a product. Dariuz has stolen a cart left unattended whilst its owner was climbing one of the miniature staircases built into the displays to enable people to reach items on the upper shelves, and he stops as they near the fruit section.
Lina grabs his arm and he can feel the energy flowing through her, the same buzz that now fills his head with blood, that has encouraged his heartbeat to almost trip over itself.
“Fuckin’ hell did you see that?” she asks, grinning uncontrollably.
“Glad you came now?”
They make an abrupt turn to circle around a massive display of teabags and Dariuz considers it for a moment before moving on. “You see anything?”
“Nothing so far but surely they can’t have missed it.”
“Then we’ve still got time …”
Lina follows his gaze to an elaborate display of bananas. The fruits hang from plastic trees plastered with discounted prices and the leering faces of cartoon characters and each child that passes them diverts their parents towards them, dancing and wailing for the bananas to be added to already-bulging carts.
“Look at how frantic they are,” Lina says, shaking her head.
Dariuz removes an object from his pocket that Lina first thinks is another syringe but then realizes is a small torch. He flicks a switch and shines the devices’ invisible light onto one of the character’s faces and instantly the suggestive messages implanted there become clearly visible. Lina breathes a sigh of disgust.
“And if I’d brought the headphones you could listen to the audio messages too. Children’s ears pick up on different frequencies than those of their parents. Come on.”
But she stands firm, grabbing his wrist to prevent him from walking away.
“I don’t think we should.”
“I just … it’s too risky. We need to get further away from the dairy aisles just in case …”
“You know how long we spent assembling that fucking infojection.”
“Of course I do! But what good will it do if we get caught before we can …”
“Lina, this is what it’s all about. This is what I’ve been doing all these months. You read the same reports I did, you know about the new trade deals with Ecuador and Columbia. It’s going to rip what little life is left out of them. Their pay…”
“At least they get paid,” she says, matching his own conspiratorial tones.
“Are you …?”
“I just mean we have to make them count. I say we skip it for now and go for the electronics.”
The anger and surprise that has flared within Dariuz subsides quickly. “The Chiolanas islands?”
Lina nods. “Systematic rape, forced abortions – come on Dariuz. We can’t do it all, at least not today. If we push it too far and get caught then what good can we do?”
He considers this for a moment then nods agreement and they set off again.
The travelpaths continue for as far as the eye can see, signage decorating the aisles like some strange fauna though this is as far from a natural environment as one could get. Overhead rails criss-cross the entire MegaMart, delivering soft music and the occasional blast of scents – baby powder to trigger the maternal nest-building instincts in women and pheromones for the men. Electronic tagging systems track each shopper around the store to precisely map their psychosocial profiles. And all of this taking place out of sight, nothing more than gentle psychological nudges to those far below.
Interspersed amongst the aisles are giant glass bubbles within which shoppers feast on the free noodles provided by vending machines that deliver foods that are full of flavour but utterly lacking in substance so as to do nothing more than stimulate the customers’ palettes before their return to the shop floor. Lina slows as they pass one, watching a small group of children running around inside, almost delirious with the amount of additives coursing through their veins and she experiences a pang of sadness that hits her like an uppercut.
And in the reflection of the glass she sees a man watching her.
Dark, cropped hair that has a pattern fashionably shaven into it and a shirt with a high collar, like the types priests would have wear worn before the ban of ‘46.
She squeezes Dariuz’s arm and he reads the signal, running his tongue across his lower lip. He stops at a display of washing powder, sneaks a look in the man’s direction as he takes a box and places it in their cart then starts off again.
They finally reach the electronics section and enter a world of blinking lights and luxuriant screens of all sizes and at the top of each shelf a glowing blue ball delivers the wireless energy needed to power the wonderland of devices. A rack of implants and bioplugs announces itself proudly to them as they pass but they keep going, past retractable cabling and rows of self-surgery kits. Only when the crowds thicken does Dariuz risk another look over his shoulder.
“Is he still there?” Lina asks.
Dariuz shakes his head and then realizes where they are.
An infojection display.
A glass casing hovers before them, a variety of delivery devices rotating within, bathed in gentle lights that subtly and constantly change color. There are updated models of the syringes that Dariuz has in his pocket which themselves were only released onto the market a month earlier.
Projected onto the glass of the box, an advert runs in a constant loop explaining the basics of the technology to those it has managed to reign in.
“Imagine being able to absorb not just entire books but entire libraries in one single go. Imagine gaining the knowledge to enable you to become a doctor or an engineer not in years but in minutes. Imagine learning everything there is to know about your favorite celebrity, more than even their own families know! All of this is possible with a Yun-Lee Infojection!”
The message continues in its soft, female tones, the proclamations being presented as simple fact. There is no convincing, there are no solicitations. It is the message of a hypnotist gently leading his subject into a suggestive state.
The actual infojections are mounted onto another display and there seems to be a complete lack of the aforementioned library-dumps or PHD blasts. The celebrity packages, however, blossom like the Ebola virus in a victim’s lungs and it is these that the gathered are pulling from the shelves. One man reaches for a package but as he does so he receives a tiny electrical jolt from the invisible field that sits across the display, his bad credit record being instantly scanned from the payment chip on his wrist. He shuffles away from the sudden barrage of looks he gets, off to find something more affordable elsewhere in the store.
“Come on,” Lina says, encouraging him onwards.
They stop when they reach a display of Holovisions which are all projecting the same sportscast in a dozen different sizes and resolutions. A number of people are gathered around them as disembodied voices explain the benefits of the products to them, a sales pitch that is customized to each one based upon their previous purchases.
Dariuz picks a man in his very early twenties with a pair of retro-style headphones around his neck, the audio cable absent since there are decorative only. Another quick check for security then he retrieves the infojection from his pocket and shoves it into the man’s thigh.
“Hey, what the f… ?”
The man lurches suddenly as the infojection blasts through his bloodstream and reaches his cerebral cortex. Dariuz knows exactly what images are now flowing through the man’s mind having spent almost a week with Lina assembling video and audio footage as well as the digitized suffering of the workers passed to them by whistleblowers.
The man spins around, kicking one of the Holovision units and sending it clattering into another shopper before chasing after it and stamping on it until it is nothing more than shattered circuitry.
“Shit,” Lina mutters and nods at the guards now coming towards them, headed up by the man with the shaven head.
Both she and Dariuz turn and run, leaving the man screaming “Leave her alone! Leave her alone!” They knock over a rack of lo-tech recording devices to block the aisle behind them.
They both head straight for the rear of the store, near to the carefully-concealed entrances to the storage warehouses that feed the MegaMart a constant supply of product as if they were vital organs. Between two large doors is another smaller one that they both know from stolen schematics leads into the ventilation system initially, then outside. Lina uses a handheld jamming device to temporarily block the signal of the security lock and opens the door but when she turns Dariuz is edging away from her.
“What are you doing?”
“Just one more,” he tells her, wiping sweat from his brow. A young family are staring at them, the little girl swinging her father’s hand in her own as she pleads with him to buy her whatever it is she is wanting.
“Dariuz no! They’re coming!”
“I know, but …”
“No buts! I thought we agreed …”
“I’ll be right back, I promise,” he says, his jaw clenched tight. “This one is important.”
She can hear the shouts of the guards getting closer. “Dariuz, please…”
He mouths the words I love you then turns and runs.
He charges past a couple arguing so vigorously over a comm device the man holds that they almost come to blows, having to fight hard to ignore the mental guidance all around him that is trying to get him to go in a different direction. He finally reaches his destination, one of the only places in the MegaMart where there real people are still present to serve customers and not just hologuides or disembodied pre-recordings.
A long polyglass counter, shining as if it were a religious artifact, is the focus for a dozen people all lined up before it and the nickname MeccaMarts seems all the more relevant. These shopper-worshippers jostle with one another but their reverence stops them from breaking into one of the all-out riots that have been known to occur in the Megamarts from time to time when the psycho-stimulations do their job a little too well.
Behind the counter two men move amongst gleaming metal tables that bring to mind the increasingly-popular Modification Suites where body parts, and people’s lives, are made anew. A beam runs across the lowered ceiling above them, from which descend a variety of tools attached to thin rubber cables – knives, saws and other bladed instruments – though they have never been used and never will be. Refrigeration units hum in the background.
The meats that are laid out within the polyglass counter are pieces of holoart; the men outfitted like butchers have never seen their product before they remove it from the refrigeration units, though if you ask them they will recite a carefully-rehearsed script to make it seem as if they have.
And all of it is theatre.
This is where the illusion of bonding consumers with the products takes place at its most surreal, where the lies are told most effectively. In the MegaMart nothing is real – but this place even less so.
Dariuz sinks into the queue but only until the security have lost sight of him, aware that the cameras above are even now fighting against the cloaking signals given off by the unit in his chest pocket to track him down. He waits until one of the butchers crosses near to him whilst retrieving a pair of veal cutlets and whispers something.
The man hesitates, frowns and leans in.
Dariuz blinks, leans towards him and shoves the needle into the man’s carotid artery. There’s a moment of silence as if reality were struggling to keep up then the man shrieks and jerks away from Dariuz, the needle still poking out of his neck. His colleague drops the lamb shank he is carrying to the polished floor with a wet thud. Dariuz’s victim reaches out towards him, mouth wide open, tongue waving and the consumers have finally come out of their pseudo-trances enough to realize that something is wrong.
“Noooo!” the butcher screams, staggering backwards. He looks up at the bone saw above him and grabs it, activating its motor and then swinging it at his colleague. The other man cries out, catching his foot on the dropped shank and falling into one of the refrigeration units and the butcher swings at him once more but the cable it is attached to won’t stretch far enough and the instrument’s descent is halted.
An awful, guttural shriek emerges from the butcher’s throat and finally the needle pops out. There had been so much to pack into that particular infojection that Lina had had to dual-layer it, using black market chemicals to squeeze so much data into the molecules that they almost burst and all of that would currently be blasting through the butcher’s mind.
Pigs frozen solid after thousand-mile journeys; calves clamped to steel cages, desperately licking at the metal to get the iron their bodies so craved; chickens used as playthings, kicked and smashes against walls; cows being dragged along the ground by hooks shoved through their noses. More and more and more.
The butcher climbs up onto the counter, lashing out at those in the queue, spraying them with blood from the wound in his neck and Dariuz turns to leave only to find a guard right behind him, stun gun ready to be fired. Dariuz ducks at the last moment and a ball or sparkling energy blasts past him and explodes into the rear wall of the butchery area. He kicks out at the guard’s knee, buckling it, then knees him in the face.
But more guards are already arriving and Dariuz knows now that he lingered too long. Another stun-shot is fired but hits a middle-aged man next to him. The man’s body launches into the air from the force of a great, single spasm, then collapses to the ground. Dariuz charges across the aisle, desperately trying to recall the maps that Lin and he had studied for hours on end, trying to orient himself in a place that was designed to get you lost. He remembers a corridor that leads to the MegaMart’s medical bays, where overstimulated consumers would be lead to be calmed and then sent back out again, over near the baking products.
Six or seven guards chase after him, pushing their way through crowds that barely seem to notice their presence, and they’re catching him fast. The cameras swivel to capture him, electronic signals sent out in steady pulses to interfere with his senses, the travelpaths being instantly reconfigured to confuse him and his jammer is beginning to fail from the overload. He crashes into a display of cans, lands awkwardly on his leg and another stun-shot electrifies the ground next to him. He pulls himself through the remnants of the display, gets to his feet, pain shooting through him and another stun-shot clips his shoulder, throwing him spinning to the ground.
He tries to get up, the exit corridor visible at the corner of his vision but even with the stun-shots indirect contact his muscles stop paying attention to him and start doing their own thing. He flips onto his back as if he were a carp who has been dumped onto a fisherman’s boat floor, wracked by uncontrollable spasms.
The security guards lean over him, pull him to his feet and activate a set of lumino-restraints around his wrists and ankles. The piercing glow of the incandescent cuffs fill his vision but even through the pain and the distortion he can see Lina, bruised and bloodied, her t-shirt torn, being carried by more guards in the background.
He tries to shout but his jaw won’t do as it’s told.
“You’re finally with us?” the man asks.
Dariuz moves his tongue around inside his mouth and it seems to spark each time it brushes against a tooth. His eyelids are heavy and dry and his entire body feels as if it has been drained of blood and had it replaced by electricity. It’s not the first time he’s felt the after-effects of a stun-shot.
He’s seated in a crisp, artificially-aged leather chair and although his lumino-restraints remain in place their power has been turned down, their hum like the murmur of a madman. Lina is seated opposite him, also in restraints, her blood dried on her cheeks now, her left eye swollen shut.
She manages the slightest smile to tell him it’s okay but it just enflames his guilt. Why had he been so insistent on her joining him that night? What had he expected to prove to her?
“Quite an array of equipment you have here. I take it this will all be on your cred records?”
Lo-Pen’s face is like a mask, only the shine in his eyes indicating any emotion. He spreads his arms out across the small collection of devices that his men had recovered from the two guerrillas. All four walls and the floor of his office have become transparent, one-way of course, and so they all have the feeling of hovering above the shopping space below the way you might in a dream.
“I must say it’s taken us a while but I’m glad we’ve finally met,” he says, his accent thick with the strange, fluctuating corporate inflection that comes from years of international interaction, when your history becomes that of whom you worked for and not where you were born and raised. “We have enough bio-evidence here to track your collaborators down, however we of course will take any help you might provide us with into account?”
“Since you know so much you must also be aware that you have twelve hours to hand us over to the authorities to meet any charges you want to press and according to your watch you’ve been holding us for six already,” Dariuz says, words slurring.
“I’m afraid not. Any crimes committed within the boundaries of this premises are subject to our own private judicial system and not the public one. Section 17b of the Collaborative Policing Act of 2050.”
Dariuz stiffens. “There’s no such thing. They were trying to get it passed but …”
“But it will be going through in about two months time if promises are kept. The Government will be handing over judicial control to any private body who wishes to have it and this MegaMart – or Mecca Mart, yes? - will be amongst the first, though I’m sure the technicalities of waiting until November can be gotten around. We already have the holding cells built and you will be the first to experience them. Congratulations.”
Dariuz exchanges a glance with Lina and he can tell how hard she is trying to keep it all together.
“We have the right to …”
“Nothing unless we deem it so – at least once you have entered our property” Lo-Pen interrupts him.
Dariuz clenches his teeth. “So what are you going to do, lock us all up indefinitely? We aren’t the only ones, you know. There are others like us, dozens – if not hundreds. You can’t stop people getting the information they deserve.”
Lo-Pen crosses his manicured hands across his stomach, eyes narrowing and anger flares within them.
“You just doesn’t get it do you? This isn’t about is hiding information from the people down there.” He stalks across the translucent flooring, peering at the tiny consumers shuffling through the aisles like electrons through a circuitboard. “The people that you attacked today are being treated in our private wards as we speak and are being told the truth about what you’ve been doing.”
“The truth or your truth?” Lina says.
“Ours, of course. That you mocked up everything they saw in those infojections, that it was all a creation of media-terrorists hired by a rival company. And you know what? They’ll believe it. Not because the story is convincing, not because they know that that sort of thing does go on – but because they have to believe it. Because if they do believe it then they can continue doing what their friends and families are all doing right now.”
Dariuz and Lina look down beneath them at the fluttering crowds.
“A common truth should serve us all. Whatever doubts they might have will be scrubbed away after a few more days and everything you’ve done, everything you’ve been working so hard for – will be dust. Gone.” He leans in close to Dariuz. “Worthless.”
He straightens up, the nanocules in his suit instantly smoothing out creases so that he almost appears computer-generated.
“Your co-conspirators can do what they like but we’ll be ready for them. We have a hundred other explanations ready-prepared should any more stunts like yours today occur and none of them are entirely believable but each of them will be believed. Do you understand that? Your fight is useless. You cannot stop us – and not because we don’t to be stopped … but because they don’t.”
And this time the smile comes from his lips as well as his eyes and he sweeps his arm out across the vast expanse of the MegaMart and as far as any of them can see there are the shuffling, twisting crowds and the delirious chatter of people consumed by a purpose that unites them all.
And they will not be stopped.
About the Author
Simon Logan is the author of the industrial fiction novel Pretty Little Things to Fill Up the Void as well as the short story collections Nothing is Inflammable, Rohypnol Brides, and I-O. He is currently at work on his second novel, Guerra. In the words of Jack O’Connell, the author of Word Made Flesh, “Logan is a stylish transgressor for the next evolutionary moment, he reminds me of Harlan Ellison at his most daring and dangerous – raw, fearless, unpredictable, disturbing and much needed.”
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