Illustration by Matthew Clark.

Illustration by Matthew Clark.

That night, Samuel Laszlo hadn’t slept a wink. The clock had struck three a.m. and over the course of seventy-two hours he had managed to wrestle approximately an hour and a half of sleep. He had reached that point in the month where his body had built up a tolerance, having been subjected to a nightly ritual of washing back store brand diphenhydramine tablets with whatever discount wine he could place his hands on. With hindsight, Sam couldn’t think why he’d bothered with such low strength tablets; enough of any medication was effectively sleeping medication, nowadays.

Splayed across unkempt bedsheets, Sam stared up at the ceiling of his dingy apartment. His vision was framed by an intoxicant-induced vignette as his attention drifted across the apartment’s peeling paintwork and towards the cobweb cluttered corners of the room. Everything was still in the dark, save for the residual smoke curling from a cigarette end and one solitary circle that had appeared in the bottom left of his vision. As the circle rotated a small bar beneath it crawled to completion, accompanied by a word: buffering. On the edge of rest with heavy eyelids, Sam groaned in exasperation as he realised his efforts had been for nought.

The transmission cut through the lethargic haze of nicotine and alcohol with laser precision. The dingy apartment vanished behind a curtain of neon that seemed to project itself from behind Sam’s own iris, leaving only the rotating circle behind. Soon afterwards, the circle too faded away and the sheer white dissipated to reveal azure surf lapping against the pristine shore of a tropical beach. The vista panned upwards, veering toward the star spotted blanket of a navy blue sky. As Sam’s vision was led skyward, a translucent image of a person slumbering in a hammock suspended between two single stars melted into view. From the ether came a soothing voice, spoken as if directly into each of his ears.

“Tired of tossing and turning; of every night being a tiresome struggle in the pursuit of rest?”

“However did you guess?” he deadpanned. The advertisement continued, reeling off a long list of inadvertent side effects and interactions of the diphenhydramine tablets that Sam had just that afternoon purchased. He traced his fingertips across the small lump at the base of his skull that concealed his Cradle™ neural implant. Sam hated advertising but was willing to endure it for the benefits of the implant. One more dependency couldn’t hurt, surely.

Once finished, the advertisement vanished with a blink. Sam was returned back to his apartment, all too aware and all too awake. He could feel the far off thrumming of the police heli-car blades and the spluttered gurgling of the apartment complex’s shoddy plumbing. But worse still he started to hear the whispers. Dark murmurs on the fringes of thought; mortal and macabre. Though easily enough suppressed by the right concoction of chemicals, he had currently burnt through most of what he had at hand. It quickly became clear: big sleep or no sleep at all. With little hesitation, Sam downed what remained of the budget Shiraz, washing back an extra four diphenhydramine tablets with it. After a short while the vignette returned and Sam braced himself for the implants activation. Darkness drew over him, as if he was being submerged into a pool of ink, and finally Samuel Laszlo fell into eight days of big sleep.

The recall process was not unlike falling asleep on a train; you drift off at one stop and by the time you’ve awoken you have arrived at a new destination. Sam had heard rumours and tales from a friend of a friend about dreaming during recall and all the conspiracy theories that accompanied said tales. So when Sam found himself standing upon a precipice twenty stories above street level he’d imagined another advert had been transmitted to the implant. But after a while he noticed the freedom, how his vision wasn’t being railroaded between marketing approved vistas. The city around him seemed familiar, as it would to any one of its twenty million inhabitants. Jagged crystalline spires wreathed in glittering neon bulbs towered above and around him, like Christmas lights coiled around glass fangs. The orange hue of headlights ebbed and strobed beneath him; a glowing circulatory system pulsing through the city against the immutable blackness beneath it. As Sam stood motionless, in awe of the city’s glow, the traffic below ground to a halt. As all the lights of the city began to dim, Sam awoke.

The vat’s bubbling solution was tinted a sickly lime and it stung as he opened his eyes. This, in addition to the breathing apparatus lodged halfway down his oesophagus, kept him perpetually on the verge of gagging. Small prices to pay for the benefits of Cradle™ tech. Through the blurring contents of the tank he could see the Cradle™ technicians. They were moving from vat to vat, checking each diagnostic terminal in order to ascertain which customers were prepared and ready to be reintroduced.Those who possessed a premium membership with GNM Biotech’s Cradle™ Initiative were instantly moved to the front of the queue, which meant Sam, as a user of the free model, spent the following twelve minutes suspended in the solution until his vat reached the front of the queue. Customers who chose the free subscription were limited to a single recall and rebirth per calendar month and consented to the reception of neural marketing transmissions. After the technicians had carefully drained the solution from the tank and detached the breathing apparatus, Sam was led to his designated locker to collect his belongings that had been obtained during his body’s reclamation.

“Storage of personal effects isn’t currently covered by our freemium business model,” said one of the accompanying technicians, his expression cold and placid. “We’re required to levy a one hundred credit surcharge.”

“Be sure to check out our latest deals for Cradle subscriptions, Mr. Laszlo. Three hundred credits a month with fifty credit discount whenever you sign up a friend,” said the other, too insistently. Sam dismissed the offer with a polite smile and a wave of his hand.

Having dressed and gathered his things, Sam made his way down the white panelled corridors of the Cradle™ reintroduction facility. He passed beneath the large banner, embossed into a misted sheet of glass: ‘New dawn! New day! New you!’ Sam scoffed and shook his head; as mawkish as he found the Cradle™ Initiative’s slogan of choice he couldn’t help but chuckle. Habitually, Sam felt more comfortable after a big sleep; there was a liveliness to his stride and an eagerness to celebrate, to break in his shiny new liver. Sam exited the reintroduction facility through the towering glass doors and onto the tenth story pedestrian walkway. The afternoon sun pierced the coalescing gases and fumes pumped out by the peak time traffic. Sam caught his reflection and found himself smirking. Nothing put him in a better mood than gambling with loaded dice.

“Sam! Jesus man, how’ve you been!” A woman, no older than twenty five came rushing out of the facility behind him, her hair was slick black and cropped short and a bridge of freckles dusted her nose. She placed a hand firmly upon Sam’s shoulder. “Still swinging by here from time to time, I see.”

Sam looked at the woman, his eyebrow arched.

“Oh, right. Yeah, of course. When did we last meet? June, was it? Let me think…” she trailed off into thought, rapping her fingertips against Sam’s shoulder. “June would mean…Tammy! You’d remember me as Tammy.”

Sam had first met Tammy at a dive bar down in the lower storeys of the city, where you could smell the salty sea surf and the rotting wood of the old piers. That day, Tammy had been a five foot eleven Samoan with broad shoulders and a deep gut who went by the name Kahlie. Tammy liked to see herself as a pioneer as much as she did an artist and Kahlie was, at that time, her current project. Whilst many movements of the art scene had gravitated towards the grand frontier of cyberspace and it’s digital installations, Tammy had been left dissatisfied by it. She found the movement too ephemeral, too intangible; she much preferred the, sometimes literal, blood and guts approach that Cradle™ tech had permitted her.

“Come, I want to show you my latest. I need an outside pair of eyes on it before it hits the galleries,” Tammy relocated her hand from Sam’s shoulder to his bicep and marched him in the direction of the nearby heli-cab depot, gesticulating with her free hand in its direction. Sam had known Tammy, and her previous iterations, well enough to know that to insist against tagging along would prove a fruitless endeavour.

For an artist whose work had drawn a substantial number of both admirers and investors, Tammy liked to live modestly but comfortably. She had acquired a small fortune during an advertising campaign for GNM’s rivalling conglomerate, Exadat Amalgamated, where a past iteration of herself had agreed to replacing all vital organs with their finest range of cybernetic counterparts. That particular iteration passed on two weeks after the advertising campaign ran its course.

Her apartment was large but sparse and felt more like a workshop than it did an abode. Tammy had composed her installation in the very centre of what would’ve been the living room. Slumped in a cast iron bath tub, pale and gaunt was the cadaver of Tammy’s most previous receptacle. Plastic tubing had been fed into each major artery. The tubing was now clear, but the blood had been drawn upwards towards a large tubular chandelier suspended two feet below the ceiling by three fine steel cables. A pump, powered by an electric motor drew the extracted blood through the chandeliers tubing in endless circulation. Tammy had captured the human heartbeat.

“Typically I name these after the person I’d inhabited during the project, but here I’m not so sure. What do you reckon, any ideas?” Sam could feel the prideful grin against the back of his neck as he edged cautiously closer to the structure. He watched the scarlet liquid pulse through the complex intestinal network of shaped glass; it held the illusion of a firework, frozen mid explosion. Sam’s eyes traced the snaking trails of the bloodstream, eventually reaching the hollow plastic tubing that led down to the cadaver. His stomach wrenched at the sight of it.

Tammy’s most recent iteration had been a slender man with tussled black hair, a man surely not much taller than Sam himself. His hazelnut brown eyes had rolled back in their sockets, cutting the iris in half and lending the corpse’s expression an element of stupor. The skin around the mouth had split and cracked and with no blood remaining to exude from the wounds it had dried, like sun scorched earth. Sam decided to look away sooner rather than later.

“So,” he turned, taking a second to swallow and repress his gut.”What do I call you, this time?”

“Haven’t quite decided on that one either.” she said, placing her hands on her hips as she continued to admire her own craftsmanship. “Scarlett? Yes, seems appropriate.”

Suddenly Sam didn’t feel quite as enthusiastic about celebrating as he had after leaving the Cradle™ reintroduction facility. It wasn’t so much shock, he’d always known Scarlett’s style of working and he hadn’t expected anything less. On the way home, Sam found himself haunted by the bloodless scene in the iron tub. His stomach continued to churn and gurgle at the thought of it and, before he could pass his guts protests off as mere rebirth sickness, he was struck with the realisation: today had been the first time he’d ever been confronted by a corpse. Typically, Sam didn’t hang around for that long; on occasions of big sleep he’d be whisked off into recall to be reintroduced through the Cradle vat and a reclamation team would be dispatched to deal with the mess. He made sure to stop off at an off license on the way back and laid his hands upon a couple of cheap bottles of wine; white this time.

Back at his apartment he placed the two bottles upon the faux-granite worktop, next to a printed out bill for the reclamation costs and cleaning fees. Sam had ventured on enough big sleeps for his landlord to be familiar with the occasions, and so would call reclamation to collect the body and sublet the apartment out part time to tourists and travelling businesspeople. Even though all the charges and transactions had to be handled electronically, his landlord always made a point of placing a printed bill on the worktop just for Sam to see when he returned. Every single time. Nothing said fuck you like the fine print. As the setting sun cast orange strips through the blinds and across the apartment, Sam uncorked a bottle, palmed a glass and made his way to bed in the pursuit of rest.

Darkness ebbed around him, tendrils reaching up from the depths of the city and towards Sam as he stood, once more, upon the twenty story high precipice. The vibrant lights of that city that had previously blazed fervently against the dark had flickered and waned, dimming to give way to an encroaching inky shadow that reached from the depths. Fear’s fingers coiled around Sam’s spine and left him paralysed, a passive observer to this feast of shadows, devouring whatever light it’s ravenous limbs could ensnare. The once gleaming crystal monoliths of the city slowly succumbed to an inevitable shade.

It was the implant, surely. It had to be. Some sort of malfunction, some sort of complication between the advertisement transmissions. Or the rebirth sickness. Of course, it’s just the rebirth sickness. It’s just rebirth sickness. Tremors ran down the length of his arm and the surface beneath his feet dissolved from being, giving way to the immutable plunging blackness that climbed and climbed around him, devouring street-light and star shimmer alike until there was nothing but the impenetrable abyss. From the dark, cold features sidled up beside Sam’s; two glossed onyx eyes pitted into a skeletal face. Teeth like dishevelled headstones arranged into a twisted Cheshire smile. A chill breath settled on his face as a skeletal finger ran down his cheek. That night, Samuel Laszlo didn’t sleep a wink.

Matthew Clark

Matthew is aspiring science fiction writer with an interest in the medium of film and feminist film theory. He is currently working on a full feature length screenplay for his BA degree.