It was amateur night in Rosie’s Bar and big Jinks Hammer had cut out his heart for the audience. They were laughing fit to bust a blood-vessel or two of their own as he fell to his knees, pitched forwards off the stage and landed in the lap of a startled punter. It was a classy gathering. All the stars of the late night crowd were there, the ones who could afford the really expensive rebuild needed if they were caught by the sun, the ones with their own private meat wagons ghosting behind them as they prowled the edge of dawn. They loved his act. Or at least they loved the ending.
One of the bar robots put a shunt into his chest and dragged him through the back door to where the rubbish waited for collection. Jinks was just coming to consciousness as its metal arms loaded him onto the ambulance. Nice of the club, he thought, there was no need to do that. He lay waiting while the collectors gathered together more stiffs, trying to control his damaged body, ignoring the shrieking signals from his chest. The robots were taking their time, stacking their dead and comatose customers one by one, chattering to each other in the high-pitched squeaks they used among themselves. The wagon was almost full when Sonja drifted up to the door at the rear, an inevitable cigarette hanging from her full, red-painted lips. Her face wavered when he looked up at her inverted features. His eyes were failing.
“Your sign-off was great, Jinksy. If you cut out the political crap about the Federation, stay with the knock-about, you can have yourself a job. I need a new comic. Deal?”
“Deal” he croaked as she slammed the door. He couldn’t say more. He had been dead too long and a whole mass of his neural circuits had failed. One of his hands twitched spastically as the vehicle jolted over the potholed roads, unloading bodies here and there. He had gone fully blind by now but he knew where he was, tracking the rhythm of the wheels. Next stop Megahotel.
His brain was still working at full pitch. All the way to his cubicle he thought about the world, how it stank, how he hated the Company, hated what it had done to them all, hated being marooned in this hell. But no-one cared. Even Sonja D. didn’t care. Only Jinks cared, cursing in his tight metal coffin as it bumped through the streets of Night City.
Dub was no place for Man. Scorching him by day, savaging him with hydroxyl radicals at night, it tried in a thousand ways to tear him apart. Even breathing hurt. Every day his body had to be rebuilt cell by cell, the machines repairing the damage of the previous night, readying him for another eight hours of torture. Sometimes Jinks remembered what he had been told of Earth with its twelve hours of night and he shuddered, unable to bear the thought of consciousness longer than the brief night of Dub.
In the old days, when the metal flowed off-planet and the Company grew fat, the inhabitants could see some point to the suffering. Now the only things they had was unlimited power from the solar arrays and unlimited time. And pain. They had a lot of pain. Maybe they would live forever as a reward for suffering, renewed eternally by the resurrection machines, but it was a prospect that filled them with no pleasure. They were never rebuilt from the ground up. One day it might happen, if the techniques of DNA synthesis improved, or at least got cheaper. Then, instead of grubbing for cells in their corpses, the machines could build them new bodies from raw chemicals, ingredients which would hold no imprint of death after death after death. One day, but not yet. Somehow, as he gagged over another lethal lungful of air, Jinks reckoned even the chance of eternity wasn’t enough. The business as a comic had started out as a bet, but the more Jinks thought about it the more he realised it made ideal cover. Most jobs in his real trade were simple trace and returns, looking for wives on the lam, kids trying to go to the bad in a city that was all bad. Rosie’s Bar was central, the most popular venue in town. As resident comic he would have the perfect excuse for hanging around. Besides, he found that he had real talent. The meat wagon pulled up outside his bolthole and negotiated for a few seconds with the hotel mind, checking he had a reservation. Then it unloaded him. The handling robot was not particularly gentle: it knew he would soon be dead. The Megahotel cubicle was only just big enough for his frame and it felt cold as he was shoved into place. His clothes were ripped to ribbons by whirling blades, sucked away to be remade and to wait for night. Jinks lay naked, shaking with terror. The door closed behind him. At once the machine began to break him down. It happened quickly.
First the brain. His thoughts echoed oddly as the hotel resonated his nerves, checking for updates, rewriting the data holos labelled Jinks Hammer. Jinks had missed being updated only once. His brain had been mashed to jelly in -- [End of Preview.]