"Mr Popular?" a woman's voice rings out across the marble faceted lobby
I raise my and and simultaneously nod, disproving the rumour that I can't do more than one thing at a time.
The owner of the voice, an gender-based prime-series android clone waltzes over with a plate of watch parts.
"Your watch parts, Mr Popular...." She hesitates for the regulation inbuilt 13.4 second interval and delivers the standard famous-person suck up. ".. and may I say tha.."
She stops mid-delivery with a verbal reset
"Oh." Servile mode cuts in and she drifts off like a good android.
"Mr Popular? Phone call for Mr Popular."
"Here!" I shout, and look over to see a dapper wait-droid with telephone table trundling towards me.
"Pope Corbain" he whispers as he passes me the handset.
I string out several metres of cable and wander out to the hanging gardens to get some privacy.
"Hello Kurt" I say, smiling to myself.
"Hi Fan" he says, (meaning my first name "Fantastically", not my passtime occupation)
"What can I do for you Kurt?" I enquire.
"It's this being dead business, it's no fun!" he whines
"Hey, we brought you back didn't we?" (This DNA reconstruction and replication was getting to be a real pain in the arse)
"Yeah, but you left the *real* me behind!"
"Which one was that, tormented Rock Latent-Superhero, Too-much-money-to-sort- out-my-life-musician, or Ann Margaret look-alike?"
"How did you know about the Ann Margaret thing?"
"Hey, I'm Mr Popular, I know everything, it's in the synapses?"
"Yeah, brain bits - about 3 inches in front of where the front of your head is now... Besides, it was all coded into your DNA"
"Yeah, A 44bit CRC, random salted, psuedo-random peppered and not at all random mustarded algorithm. A peice of piss, worked it out on my pocket calculator that came free with my last subscription to Date magazine"
"Don't you mean Time?"
"No, they would sue"
"Anyway, is that all you were calling about?"
"No, it was the Pope stuff, I forgot why I'm here doing this job"
"It's not surprising you forgot really, with your memory in the state it is"
I hang up. I don't think he'll be ringing back. I drop the receiver and remember that receiver is an "i before e except after c" word and skip back a sentence and correct it. I don't think anyone noticed.
Mid-stride I change direction and throw off the CCTV cameras that have "intelligent" tracking and slip across to the bar. Barney's on desk so I ask for the regular, hold the fries, no handshake. 2 minutes later a Ouzo and lead pipe down the counter to me. I take a quick snort in time to hear yet another voice calling my name..
"Popular, Mr Popular?"
"Yes" I say, nodding, proving once and for all that the rumours weren't true. A new wait-droid comes over and hands me an paste-white envelope bearing the inscription "Inscription". Tricky. The wait-droid's either waiting for a tip or to see what's in the envelope, I don't know which. I've been a bit paranoid since "Sliver", so I slip it the lead pipe from my drink across the scan-cam and it goes down.
A man with a lead pipe needs no justification.
The phone beside me rings, so I pick it up. It's Pope Corbain again. It all feels a little fishy to me.
"What memory?" he says.
I hang up again and move for door, fast. Three wait droids are converging on my exit point so I slip out my nickle plated .53 calibre Magnum Magnum and wave it in a threatening manner. (Threatening wave being: Wave it till it lines up with something, then pull the trigger). I step over the smoking droids and out the door.
A man with a Magnum Magnum needs no justification!
I hail a taxi as two thoughts flash into my head "Who built my Hot Rod?" and "Where can I get one of those shirts?"
I get in the taxi, simultaneously pocketing my Magnum Magnum AND humming the chorus to "You're so vain". Three things at once. Remember that if anyone asks.
"Where to bud?" the taxi driver rasps, stubbing his camel out on the "No Smoking" sign.
"Hell AND back please" I smile.
"Just drive, I'll tell you how to get there"
"Listen Buddy, I got no time fo..." The driver, struck by the simultaneous thoughts of "I am providing a service", "The customer is always right", and "Fuck! That's a big gun!" decides to cut conversation and drive.
I like that in a service person.
"Where to?" he whispers politely.
"Straight Ahead, Second right, pull over when you get to the Arabian tower of jelly"
"Huh? Wh.." Longevity .vs. Curiousity. Longevity wins again.
We get to the Tower of Jelly and I get out. He hasn't got the guts to ask me for the fare, but I'm Mr Popular - never rip off a serviceperson, that's what I say - it gives them a bad attitude.
"How much?" I ask.
"Um, ah.. For you nothing"
"No" I say meeting his gaze with steely blue "I insist"
I hand over the money and enter the tower. The doormen move to intercept me, then see my Beta Card is almost red. Not much time. They back off and nod knowingly. I like that in a guard.
I get to the elevator and press for Beta-Research and slide on up.
On the way up the intercom next to me chimes "Who is it?"
"POPULAR!" I shout into the microphone
The stainless steel door slides across and I slip into the relative darkness and discomfort of the Beta Center. I don't like that in a beta centre.
"Ok, We'll just run some checks on your card. Please remain standing and try to move as little as possible. Name ReVerification?"
"Very good Mr Popular, would you close your eyes while we flash test your card"
I close my eyes for the sudden heat of the flash test on my face and chest.
"Okay, lastly we'll do a recharge. Please insert your card into the recharge slot"
I do as I'm told and minutes later I'm back to blue. I have no idea of what's going on either, I'm just following the plot.
"Thank you Mr Popular, Do you have any other enquires before you go?"
"The Welbourne Plan. What became of it?"
"You know we can't answer that. You may go now"
DAMN! "Of course. Have a nice day"
Hmmm. 'Have a nice day' yields 'You're welcome'.
This can only mean one thing, the tower has been compromised. I hate that in a Jelly. Once in the elevator I slip out my Magnum Magnum out of view of the Closed Circuit TV.
To throw me off, the lift stops on the first floor and not the ground, but I was ready for that, AND the two restraint droids that come at me. I smoke them and pull out my Billy Idol CD. What a waste. Still, I spose they have to put something on them or all you'd hear was a slight hiss.
The first floor looks veeeery nice. Wall to wall carpets. Floor to roof carpets.
I realise that I'm still in the lift and press the door open button.
Immediately a couple of Magnum Minor slugs whistle by my head into the wall pile of the lift. I hit the carpet (down) and return a clipsworth of magnum magnum slugs wildly. I hear a grunt of basic dissatisfaction at the shortness of life and the shooting stops.
I reclip the Magnum Magnum and roll out of the lift in ATTACK-POSE. (It's exactly the same as SCORE-POSE except the left hand doesn't repeatedly squeeze the testicles) Silence.
The Phone rings. What the hell, I answer.
I hang up. If the bastard's followed me this far he's either psychic or in on the action, which is more than I can say for myself. Time to call in reinforcements. I yank out my wallet phone and type out the number for central. It starts ringing.
"Hello Transmedia International"
"I'm sorry, he's out on a c.."
"NO! I'm Popular!"
"OH! Mr Popular. You have three messages, press 1 to listen to them, 2 to send a message or 3 to get backup"
I press three.
"You have pressed 3, get backup. Press 1 for a small amount of backup, 2 for a medium amount of backup, 3 for heavy backup, 4 for unreasonably heavy backup, or 5 for complete carnage"
I press five. Twice.
"You have pressed fifty five, So much backup that your mother would not even watch the televised shorts of the carnage. Press 1 if you want your backup to be dressed in white suits that highlight the excessive amount of blood in the ensuing action, 2 if you wish your backup to be dressed in warm aubergine.."
I hang up. I think I'll have to handle this one alone after all. I slip the Billy Idol CD into the building's sound system and crank the bantam to 10, slipping my earplugs in as I press Play [>. I choke back a couple of gobs of puke as the bass beat impacts on my clothes. A couple of Seek-Droids break from cover smashing at their audio inputs. I slip them a couple of Magnum Magnum slugs and they go down.
I give the building a good three or so minutes of Billy's worst then drop the CD back into my jacket pocket.
A man with bad music needs no justification.
Anyone left in the building's going to be a complete drooling vegetable by this stage, so I guess I'm in the clear. I press the lift button and the doors open to the unwanted vision of a Magnum Club pointing directly at my head. Behind it I see a Computer Science student. Then the flaw in my thinking makes itself obvious.
What if you STARTED OUT as a drooling vegetable?
I see his finger tighten on the trigger...
"Any last requests?" he sneers, still squeezing the trigger. The earplugs save me from the effects of his sqeaky-geek voice, but I can imagine. Oh, can I imagine.
"A long wait? The chance to outlive my siblings?" I quip, thinking furiously.
"I don't think so"
"Ah well, get it over with, you may as well, all the fun's gone out of my life since I found that big X-rated gif FTP site" I mutter 'defeated'
He can't help himself. He can't let this go.
"Yeah, the sol site. It really takes the fun out of it when you can get *any* picture you want from the one site"
"Yeah, you must have seen it. Gigabytes of the stuff. You name it. Gay, Bi, Groups, Bondage.."
I see him noticably twitch at the mention of Bondage..
".. Leather, Rubber, Plastic.. " I add as he trembles.
".. Rope, Cables, Clips..."
At this point he's more liable to shoot himself than me. I drop him one in the groin and he goes down whining.
Send a weiner to do a man's job. I'm not the sort of person who kicks someone when they're down, but I do so anyway, just to prove that you can change if you want to.
I grab the Magnum Club for myself and trudge downstairs to leave.
A small crowd has gathered outside the Tower of Jelly as I emerge. A couple of cops are struggling to keep them back. One breaks off as soon as he sees me emerge.
He breaks back when he sees the Magnum Club and Magnum Magnum. He's obviously seen Reservoir Dogs.
The other one probably hasn't but has a vivid imagination that saves him undue distress.
My taxi is still there, although I believe it's the cabby's curiousity more than his advanced customer service policy that has delayed him. In fact upon seeing me heading back his way, he slams into gear and kareers off down the street.
I raise the Magnum Club and pop off a test shot. Pulls to the left.
Not the gun, The Taxi. Could be that missing front wheel.
I make a mental note to get another Magnum Club for a spare.
Meanwhile the the cabby making a point of showing me how high up he can reach. I walk on over.
"Listen" I say "I'm in a hurry and I have to be in town as soon as. And as your cab is now defunct I'm in a bit of a bind. So I suppose a Piggy Back ride will have to do"
"Piggy Back. Pick-a-Back? Speekie Engelee?"
I wave the Magnum Club around a bit which improves his understanding amazingly. He squats, I jump on, we take off.
Three blocks later he collapses but luckily I manage to flag down another passing taxi.
"J.F.K, and hurry"
"That's miles away, it'll cost you a.."
Once more the Magnum Club proves itself to be invaluable in eliminating excessive communication. He drives in silence.
We get to the airport and now I'm *REALLY* pissed.
"What the *fuck* are we doing here?"
"Y-y-you said JFK!"
"Yes, the PERSON, not the AIRPORT"
"B-b-but he's dead"
"Save it for the punters. Just take me there"
That Magnum Club is worth it's weight in gold. We roll on and after several hours we're sliding through some androgenous neighbourhood, ending up outside some inconspicuous gold gates topped with life-size full-colour statues of nude amazonian women. Well maybe not *THAT* inconspicuous.
"How much?" I ask.
"Ah, D-d-don't worry ab.."
"HOW MUCH!" I ask again. Altruism has it's limits
"Four Thirty Five Ninety" he coughs, embarrassed.
I peel off five hundreds and tell him to keep the change and disappear.
I wait till he drives off before pressing the Intercom button.
"YESH ?" the intercom crackles.
"Who do you think?"
"I DON'T THINK, I'M SECURITY"
"Of course. My name is Popular. Mister. Tell John I'm here to see him"
"LOOK BUDDY, I DON'T KNOW WH.."
I press the call button and hold it in for a full minute.
"YESH ?" The attention span of these people is phenomenal
"John, brother of Ted. John who drives badly and blames it on Ted"
"LISTEN BUDDY.." he starts
"..Please come in Mr Popular.." a voice cuts in...
...A familiar voice. A voice from the past....