Exit Vector, a novel by Simon Drax
Completely revised, rewritten, ripped-apart, and re-imagined by Drax
art: “Birch” by Jeffrey Jones
used by permission of the artist’s family
† † †
ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO
OCTOBER 2, A TUESDAY
Exit zak Vector—zzzatzz—Exit zak Vector—zzzatzz—
The piece-of-shit plasma screen on the opposite wall of the pub flashed the words “Exit”and”Vector” again and again. The device was an antique, hung purposely crooked for effect, a curio from earlier times. Nobody looked at the old screen, nobody cared.
But far across the pub at her regular seat at the bar, Mori Kim Marr squinted at the little screen and thought she knew exactly what “Exit” and “Vector” meant.
Her real death, the death that would finally stick, the flight path out of this shitty existence. Exit, Mori thought, Vector. Yeah, the way out. Oh, if only.
It was Tuesday. It was early. Mori was miserable. Mori was at work, chained at the bar. The vodka helped, but not nearly enough. The music thumping from the dark rooms in the back still blasted crap, the newsfeeds behind the bar still whispered the latest bad news from everywhere, and drunk as she was she was still Mori Kim Marr, completely fucked and without a prayer or a paddle or a pot to piss in, Mori Kim Marr, oh yeah, and not nearly drunk enough, oh no. With numb determined fingers Mori brought her drink to her lips and slugged it back again, oh hail Mother Russia—
Ugh. Who was she kidding? The vodka was shit, disgusting. Mori grimaced as if to puke, but she raised her empty glass above her head and said through her teeth, “Refill, Seat B8!”
Then—fuck. She kept forgetting. All of the robotic waitstaff in the pub were broken, again. A human would have to serve her, she’d have to wait.
“Brendan!” Mori called for the woefully distant bartender. “The bitch thirsts!”
A man sitting on her left watched with mild fascination. “Hey, easy, sweetheart.”
Mori clunked her empty glass on the faux-wood bar-top. “Take it home and stick it into your wall, man. Every circuit will probably pop a fuse if they don’t get your two inches of pale blue love.”
The man flinched as if Mori had slapped him. He had recently gotten new hair, new face, new everything, Mori could tell: the pink outline around the corneas and the weird sheen of his complexion were dead giveaways. But beneath his recently grown skin and rich lustrous hair Mori had no doubt the man one seat away was a sap, probably eighty or ninety or one hundred or more, decades old and flush with cash and credit and resources that Mori would never come close to in her brutal and hopeless life. The rain lashed the sole window in the place, made a ghost of the stacked and brooding street beyond. Mori Kim Marr was seventeen years old, and the rich loser beside her thought he was master of the planet. Fuck that signal. She motioned again for the bartender, her jailor, her best friend.
“Uptight little—” The man shook his head at Mori, looked up as the bartender approached. “These uptight punk street whores!”
“I’d leave her,” the bartender said. “This particular uptight punk street whore bites.”
“But she’s wearing the chain!” The man’s face became a mockery of sympathy. “Aren’t you, sweetheart.”
Mori rolled her eyes to the pub’s cracked ceiling and lifted her left hand, her wrist encased in a seamless black band that was attached to a cable that ran her beneath her seat and plugged into the floor—YES, she was wearing the damn chain, YES she was working—
“She owes me money,” the bartender said. “And yeah, she’s working. But that doesn’t mean she has to take whatever snake comes slithering.”
“Oh, well-said, Brendan. And while we’re at it—” Mori lifted her empty glass. “Ding-ding.”
“Who’s on the leash?” the man asked the air.
“Woof,” Mori said.
“Bow-wow,” Brendan the bartender said. He poured Mori another drink. The crap vodka gurgled into her glass. “You’ll have to be nicer to the customers if you ever hope to pay me back,” he said under his breath.
“Fix your fucking robots, Brendan, or just leave the bottle. Then I’ll be nicer to your scummy clientele.”
It had rained all day and now it was night, and Mori was still a wreck at the bar.
The door to the pub slashed open, and a cluster of black laughing shadows came sneering into the place, tangle of sharp limbs and sharp hair. Draft of wet air from the traffic-choked street, shove of elbows and arms as newcomers crowded the bar and shouted for drinks. Mori winced, pressed her hand to her brow, bent protectively over her glass of foul vodka. Fucking noise, fucking people.
Even as Brendan fielded orders and served drinks, he leaned close and muttered, “Shift change, Mori. They’re thirsty and horny. Better get to work.”
Mori shut her eyes.. “Yes, yes, yes,” she managed to say. “But you know, Brendan, you can—”
“I’m sitting here,” said the person on Mori’s immediate right, followed by a grunt and the unmistakable grapple of physical violence. Mori dropped her insult for Brendan but didn’t turn to look at the altercation; she just closed her eyes tighter. Same shit every night. Where was her escape path out of here? The man on her right was yanked up and shoved away, and the newcomer sat in the seat he’d won.
“Hi.” Friendly voice, directed at Mori. She looked up.
Young guy, all flash and handsome—grey eyes, rakish hair, cool in a Crüzer coat with a short collar. And he had the burns thing going. The new guy smiled.
Oh, big improvement.
“Hi,” Mori said sitting up.
“I’m Billy.” He extended his hand. “Billy Wolfgang.”
She didn’t take his hand but gave him a smile. “I’m the Bad News Babe.”
“I know! I mean… you sure look like one, ha ha.”
“Ha ha,” Mori said, imagining how she must look: skinny, strung out, neck-length black hair in dire need of a good wash, short black skirt, boots, bomber jacket. If she’d laid on the make-up, she’d have made a passable retro-goth-military chick. As if she were going for irony.
“She’s a drunk,” said the man with the new face sitting on Mori’s left. “And she bites!” Mori absently wondered why he was still hanging around, then forgot him.
“That so?” Billy asked her. “You a drunk? You bite?””
“Absolutely,” Mori said, lifting her drink. “I’m Mori.”
“Pleased to meet,” Billy said. “Bartender! What’s her tab?”
This is too good to be true, Mori thought.
Shuffling drinks, Brendan the bartender wiped his brow and spoke to a console behind the bar. “Marr, Mori K. Display debt.”
The number 40,897.62 blazed above where Mori sat, then faded.
“Holy shit,” handsome Billy said. “That is—I don’t have that much. I have to call a friend. She’ll be here in a minute, she’ll cover the rest. Scan me. I have twenty thousand.” He glanced at Mori. “I want her.”
Had worse customers, Mori thought.
“Jay-sus,” Brendan said, working hard and fast, but he managed to flip up the scanner and zap Billy’s eyes. At once, the bar’s deceptively antiquated cash register banged-out a paper receipt.
“I’ll be damned,” Brendan said. “Twenty thousand!”
“Like I said,” Billy said, dropping a hand on Mori’s bare knee, “I want her.” Mori merely raised an eyebrow.
“Fine and good,” Brendan said, handing Billy the receipt. “But it’s still less than half. You’ll have to pay the rest before she can leave.”
“Calling my friend now,” Billy said, and he ducked his chin into the collar of his coat. “I’ve found her.”
There was an electric squawk followed by a flat distant voice: “No, you haven’t.”
“Yeah, I have—” Billy started, then drew a quick and exasperated breath. He turned to Mori. “I have to take this privately.”
“Take your time, money-buckets. I’ll watch the wicked bad news.”
Mori blinked twice, and the newsfeeds behind the bar switched active and loud in her head, hundreds of possible screens nearly obliterating her field of vision. Mori sighed, Mori drank. Mori scrolled through the wicked bad news.
— FOUR MILLION DEAD AS CANADIAN CIVIL WAR ENTERS SECOND WEEK—
— SCOTLAND DECLARED COMPLETELY IRRADIATED AND UNINHABIT-ABLE —
— PRO-ABORTION ACTIVISTS PUBLICLY EXECUTED —
Mori drank, disgusted. She switched, and
— EXIT —
burned bright on every screen, red letters on black with an intensity that scalded her eyes, EXIT—VECTOR—EXIT—VECTOR—
“The fuck!” Mori said, blinking off and out of the feeds.
“You okay?” asked her handsome customer, done with his private call.
“Yeah, some—some stupid fuckup in the wiring of this dump. Keeps teasing me with an escape route out of here.”
“Escape.” Billy Wolfgang’s hand fell again on Mori’s bare knee. “Is that what you dream about?”
“All the time.” Mori saw her drink had been magically refilled. She sipped. “Who wouldn’t? Born into slavery, born into debt—who wouldn’t want to get the fuck out of here?” Mori knew she was talking too much but she didn’t care; she had a customer who was easy on the eyes and he had actually paid half her tab, his hand was warm on her knee but did not move or stray; he actually waited for the next words. She shook back her ratty black hair and said,
“Mandatory childbirth for all pregnancies upon pain of prison or death, mandatory debt to be repaid upon birth, immigration to other countries forbidden, oh Google Bless America, we’re all—” Mori drained her drink. “We’re all—“
“Born to die,” Billy said, his grey eyes unblinking.
“Yeah,” Mori said, and realized her head was spinning. He had bought her a glass of the good stuff, not the shit. “Born to die.”
“Careful, Mori.” Brendan the bartender leaned close. “I don’t need the drones in here again to silence your loose lips.”
“Oh get bent, you Irish eunuch,” Mori said.
There was a sharp lull in the level of conversation at the bar.
“Come on!” Mori said to everybody. “We all know about Irish lads and their shortcomings…”
But the abrupt hush that enveloped the bar had nothing to do with Mori’s appraisal of the average Irish male’s endowments. She turned; there was a new arrival in the pub, and the newcomer was made of metal.
Next: The Iron Maiden