When Gravity Fails Online - George Alec Effinger

1

Chiriga’s nightclub was right in the middle of the Budayeen, eight blocks from the eastern gate, eight blocks from the cemetery. It was handy to have the graveyard so close-at-hand. The Budayeen was a dangerous place and everyone knew it. That’s why there was a wall around three sides. Travelers were warned away from the Budayeen, but they came anyway. They’d heard about it all their lives, and they’d be damned if they were going home without seeing it for themselves. Most of them came in the eastern gate and started up the Street curiously; they’d begin to get a little edgy after two or three blocks, and they’d find a place to sit and have a drink or eat a pill or two. After that, they’d hurry back the way they’d come and count themselves lucky to get back to the hotel. A few weren’t so lucky, and stayed behind in the cemetery. Like I said, it was a very conveniently situated cemetery, and it saved a lot of time and trouble all around.

I stepped into Chiri’s place, glad to get out of the hot, sticky night. At the table nearest the door were two women, middle-aged tourists, with shopping bags filled with souvenirs and presents for the folks back home. One had a camera and was taking hologram snapshots of the people in the nightclub. The regulars usually don’t take kindly to that, but they were ignoring these tourists. A man couldn’t have taken those pictures without paying for it. Everyone was ignoring the two women except a tall, very thin man wearing a dark European suit and tie. It was as outrageous a costume as I’d seen that night. I wondered what his routine was, so I waited at the bar a moment, eavesdropping.

“My name is Bond,” said the guy. “James Bond.” As if there could be any doubt.

The two women looked frightened. “Oh, my God,” one of them whispered.

My turn. I walked up behind the moddy and grabbed one of his wrists. I slipped my thumb over his thumbnail and forced it down and into his palm. He cried out in pain. “Come along, Double-oh-seven, old man.” I murmured in his ear, “let’s peddle it somewhere else.” I escorted him to the door and gave him a hefty shove out into the muggy, rain-scented darkness.

The two women looked at me as if I were the Messiah returning with their personal salvations sealed in separate envelopes. “Thank you,” said the one with the camera. She was speaking French. “I don’t know what else to say except thanks.”

“It’s nothing,” I said. “I don’t like to see these people with their plug-in personality modules bothering anybody but another moddy.”

The second woman looked bewildered. “A moddy, young man?” Like they didn’t have them wherever she came from.

“Yeah. He’s wearing a James Bond module. Thinks he’s James Bond. He’ll be pulling that trick all night, until someone raps him down and pops the moddy out of his head. That’s what he deserves. He may be wearing Allah-only-knows-what daddies, too.” I saw the bewildered look again, so I went on. “Daddy is what we call an add-on. A daddy gives you temporary knowledge. Say you chip in a Swedish-language daddy; then you understand Swedish until you pop it out. Shopkeepers, lawyers, and other con men all use daddies.”

The two women blinked at me, as if they were still deciding if all that could be true. “Plugging right into the brain?” said the second woman. “That’s horrifying.”

“Where are you from?” I asked.

They glanced at each other. “The People’s Republic of Lorraine,” said the first woman.

That confirmed it: they probably had never seen a moddy-driven fool before. “If you ladies wouldn’t mind a piece of advice,” I said, “I really think you’re in the wrong neighborhood. You’re definitely in the wrong bar.”

“Thank you, sir,” said the second woman. They fluttered and squawked, scooping up their packages and bags, leaving behind their unfinished drinks, and hurried out the door. I hope they got out of the Budayeen all right.

Chiri was working behind the bar alone that night. I liked her; we’d been friends a long time. She was a tall, formidable woman, her black skin tattooed in the geometric designs of raised scars worn by her distant ancestors. When she smiled—which she didn’t do very often—her teeth flashed disturbingly white, disturbing because she’d had her canines filed to sharp points. Traditional among cannibals, you know. When a stranger came into the club, her eyes were shrewd